THE rural affairs department Defra has launched one of its biggest ever investigations into allegations that millions of eggs sold as free-range are in fact cheap imports from European factory farms, it was announced today.
As public concern about cruelty to farm animals grows, there has been a huge surge in demand for such eggs, which can cost as much as 80p a dozen more than battery hen products.
Such has been the demand that British farmers have been unable to match the increase in production so millions of eggs are being imported from two as yet un-named European countries.
But Defra officials have been tipped off that many of these imports come from battery-farm birds which, if anything, are treated even worse than their British equivalents.
By selling them as free range, the British egg packers and distributors will have racked up millions in fraudulent profits. There have been similar cases in the past - including prosecutions in Yorkshire several years ago - but nothing on the scale of the current investigation.