The owner of a Northland egg farm has been sentenced to 12 months’ home detention and 200 hours’ community service for labelling and selling cage eggs as free range or barn-laid.

John Garnett, the owner of Forest Hill Farm, pleaded guilty to the 20 Crimes Act charges brought by the Commerce Commission in June and was sentenced today. It was only the second time the Commission had laid charges under the Crimes Act for alleged breaches of the Fair Trading Act.

The Commission’s consumer manager Stuart Wallace said they were alerted by members of the egg-producing industry.

“The conduct was also particularly deceptive because it was impossible for the public to detect – you can’t tell the difference between a cage egg and a barn-laid or free range egg by looking at them,” Mr Wallace said.

“Not only have consumers and retailers been misled, but there is also the potential harm caused to other businesses in the industry. Mr Garnett’s actions might have a negative impact on the reputation of all free range egg producers as consumers lose confidence in their products.”

The Commission estimated Forest Hill Farm made an additional $376,000 from the sale of more than 206,000 dozen falsely labelled eggs.

The eggs were sold in retail outlets, including supermarkets, in Auckland and Northland between April 2010 and November 2011.

Read Consumer's report on the reality of free-range egg farms here.