Free range eggs labelling “Cruel deception of consumers” court finds

Western Australian wholesalers C.I. & Co Pty Ltd, and Antonio Pisano and Anna Pisano have been found to have misled the public by labelling and selling cartons of eggs labelled ‘free range’ when a substantial proportion of the eggs were not free range.

The Federal Court has ordered Mr Pisano to pay a civil pecuniary penalty of $50,000 for the conduct.

The ACCC had alleged that:

  • from at least 1 January 2006 until around 1 June 2008 C.I. & Co Pty Ltd labelled and supplied cartons of eggs prominently using the words ‘free range eggs’ when in fact a substantial proportion of the eggs were not free range
  • from 1 June 2008 until around April 2010 Antonio Pisano and Anna Pisano, trading as C I and Co, labelled and supplied cartons of eggs prominently using the words ‘Free Range Eggs’ when in fact a substantial proportion of the eggs were not free range, and
  • from around April 2010 until around June 2010 the Pisanos, trading as C I and Co, labelled and supplied cartons of eggs prominently using the words ‘Fresh-Range Omega -3’ creating the overall impression that the eggs were free range, when in fact the contents were not free range.

Orders for injunctions and costs were made against all respondents.  An order was made against the Pisanos to notify all their customers of the court’s findings.

In his judgment Justice North found that: “the conduct involved a high level of dishonesty.  The conduct was also extremely difficult to detect because, once the eggs were placed in the cartons, it was impossible to determine whether they were free range or not. The second respondent [Antonio Pisano] knew what he was doing and must have known that it was dishonest to a high degree.

“The conduct amounts to a cruel deception of consumers who seek out free range eggs as a matter of principle.”

Commenting on the order imposed on Mr Pisano, Justice North noted that the maximum penalty for each contravention is $220,000 and stated, in relation to the penalty imposed in relation to the free range conduct that: “taking into account that the penalty only relates to conduct in a short period, it is unlikely that other operators in the industry could be in any doubt about the court’s view of the gravity of the deception visited upon unsuspecting and often well motivated consumers… the quantum of the penalty should signal to the suppliers of eggs that to mislabel free range eggs will be viewed as a very serious contravention of the Act, attracting severe penalties, even for a short period of trading.”

ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said the ACCC remained committed to protecting both consumers and businesses operating within the law against those who falsely label eggs in the Australian market.

“These proceedings should act as a warning to the Australian egg industry that the ACCC views egg substitution as a serious matter and will take strong enforcement action to stop similar conduct.”

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