The government is investigating claims that millions of battery farm eggs may have been sold to shoppers as free-range.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says the investigation relates to some 1 per cent of the three billion free-range eggs produced each year in the UK – around 30 million eggs
It added that the industry and retailers are being asked to check immediately that all produce on shop shelves is accurately labelled. Formal investigations are also continuing and may lead to prosecutions.
The British Egg Industry Council said it was deeply concerned about the allegations of irregularities in labelling and fully supported the prosecution of anyone found infringing the Egg Marketing Regulations.
A spokesman said: ‘It (the council) has asked Defra both verbally and in writing for full details of its investigations but these have not been forthcoming.
‘It is keen to assist in any possible way to ensure that immediate action is taken to eliminate any irregularities.
‘There is no suggestion of any public health risk arising from the allegations and consumers should continue to look for the British Lion mark on the egg box and eggshell to ensure that they are buying eggs produced to the highest standards.’
The RSPCA said it was ‘appalled’ that some eggs may be incorrectly labelled as free-range and said it was concerned the news could affect the growing market.
Meanwhile, a study by the government’s food watchdog estimates that salmonella is present in one in every 30 boxes of imported eggs on sale in England.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says this rises to around one in every eight boxes among eggs brought in from Spain.
Only 10 per cent of eggs sold in the UK are imported and most are used in the catering trade.
Dr Andrew Wadge, Director of Food Safety at the FSA, said: ‘The vast majority of eggs we eat in the UK are salmonella free. However, this survey shows that problems with salmonella in eggs have not gone away.’
The FSA says that vulnerable consumers – such as the elderly, babies, toddlers, pregnant women and people who are already unwell – should always cook eggs thoroughly to reduce the risk of food poisoning.