March 19, 2007 / 3:18 PM / 11 years ago

One million eggs a week in free-range scam

LONDON (Reuters) - An investigation has shown that more than one million battery eggs may have been sold each week as free range in a scam which was exposed late last year, the farm ministry said on Monday.

Police launched a criminal inquiry last year centred on a firm in central England.

“Our investigation indicated in a 10-week period it is alleged that over one million dozen suspect eggs were involved,” a spokesman for the farm ministry said, adding the eggs were imported from continental Europe in lorries.

The fraud may have lasted for several years, he added.

The ministry released closed circuit television footage on Monday of a man they are seeking to identify as part of the fraud inquiry. The images show him attempting to get into a post office box in Britain registered to an address in Germany.

There are about 10 billion eggs sold in the UK each year of which about 27 percent are free range, according to the British Egg Information Service.

The figures indicate the fraud may have involved about two percent of free range egg sales in Britain.

“The one or two individuals involved have tarnished the whole industry,” said John Widdowson, vice chairman of the British Free Range Egg Producers’ Association.

“Free range egg producers feel as cheated as consumers,” he said, adding there had been an increase in free range prices since the fraud was exposed and halted last year.

Widdowson said he believed the case was a “one-off” and the industry had held discussions about how to ensure it could not be repeated.

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