The businessman at the centre of a free-range egg fraud has been sentenced to three years in jail and a fine of £3.25m.
Keith Owen, of Heart of England Eggs, based in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, had pleaded guilty to three counts of false accounting. In addition to the jail sentence, the fine comprised a £3m confiscation order and £0.25m for prosecution costs.
The case was brought by DEFRA and dated from arrests made in October 2006. It alleged that millions of eggs laid by caged birds were passed off as free-range or organic.
Welcoming the outcome, NFU poultry board chairman Charles Bourns said: “The confiscation order and custodial sentence handed down by the courts send out a strong message that this kind of activity will not be tolerated.
“The vast majority of people working within the egg industry are hard-working and honest. Thankfully cases like this are few and far between.
Following the allegations, the British Lion scheme moved to strengthen its code of practice to ensure that traceability was stronger. Action taken included on-farm stamping, a new database to track eggs throughout the system, and unannounced audits.
“Consumers can be reassured that with new procedures in place, the eggs they are buying are genuine,” said Mr Bourns. I am sure that egg producers will help report any wrongdoing, and above all protect the integrity of the British egg industry.”