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SFO investigating free-range egg claim

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 13/03/2017

The serious fraud watchdog is investigating allegations a brand of eggs sold at Countdown supermarkets as free-range may have come partially from caged hens.

Countdown on Monday took all Palace Poultry products eggs off its shelves and said it was investigating reports from news website Newsroom that the supplier had on-sold caged eggs as free-range.

It's also in discussions with Ministry for Primary Industries, but MPI said the company's products have "met the criteria of their risk management programme as a free-range egg supplier", Countdown owner Progressive Enterprises said in a statement.

Palace Poultry doesn't supply any of Countdown's own brands of eggs, it said.

A spokeswoman for the Serious Fraud Office said it had launched an investigation into the claims, but declined to comment further.

The move comes after newly launched Newsroom reported the Ararimu farm didn't have enough hens to produce the 8 million eggs it was selling to Countdown each year, and was buying caged eggs and on-selling them.

Newsroom on Monday reported a key player at Palace Poultry, Aaron Fletcher, said the company believed it was only buying free-range eggs. But the news website said it had seen invoices that eggs he purchased were labelled as caged.

Calls by NZ Newswire to Mr Fletcher on Monday went unanswered.

MPI said it was "not investigating because there is no evidence to suggest that there are any breaches under the legislation MPI is responsible for regulating".

"The Commerce Commission, under the Fair Trading Act, is responsible for misleading representations on labels - such as free range or organic," MPI said in a comment.

The Commission said it had passed the issue over to the SFO and was not investigating either.

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