27 March 2000
Label ruling hits UK’s priciest eggs

By FWi staff

AN EGG producer faces a massive bill after judges ruled that he committed an offence when he put “laid between” markings on boxes of his free-range eggs.

Martin Pitt, who until last year kept 50,000 chickens at his farm near Marlborough, Wiltshire, said the markings guaranteed that the eggs were fresh.

The stamps showed a three-day bracket within which Mr Pitt guaranteed the eggs were laid. They were a major marketing tool which substantially boosted sales.

Mr Pitt said he was proud to have produced Britains most expensive eggs, which he supplied to top London hotels and other premium outlets.

But the Ministry of Agriculture insisted that the “laid between” markings breached European Law and the 1995 Eggs (Marketing Standards) Regulations.

Mr Pitt was initially cleared by Devizes Magistrates after the justices ruled the markings were both “factually correct” and in no way misled consumers.

But the decision was overturned by Lord Justice Schiemann, sitting with Mr Justice Astill, at the High Court in London on Monday (27 March).

The judges said that European law specifically forbade “the display on packs of statements designed to promote sales which refer to the freshness of the eggs”.

MAFF did not seek a legal costs order against Mr Pitt. But he will still have to pay his own legal costs, which are certain to run into thousands of pounds.

The ministry also agreed that the case should not be remitted to the magistrates court for re-hearing so that Mr Pitts initial acquittal stands.

However, the ruling is a decision which is certain to re-inforce farmers cries of unwarranted European meddling in British domestic affairs.

Mr Pitt, who started his business with 70 hens in 1959 before selling it in February last year, said later: “I am very sad from the consumers point of view.”

European rules requiring the “best before” date as an anti-fraud measure, gave large producers an unfair advantage over small farmers, he added.

Mr Pitt said he had been reluctant to mark his eggs in any way because doing so “smacks of industrial-type eggs” rather than his natural, farmhouse variety.

Small producers have to spend tens of thousands of pounds on sophisticated inkjet printing equipment so that dates can be marked directly on to eggs.

The lack of markings and the guarantee of freshness inherent in the “laid between” markings on his boxes had helped boost sales, said Mr Pitt.