Record fine for WA ‘free range’ egg farmer

One of WA’s biggest egg producers has been slugged more than $1 million after it deceived shoppers by falsely labelling some of its products free range, and consumer class action may follow.

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission brought the action against Snowdale Holdings over its farms in Carabooda and the Swan Valley in Perth’s north, where the company produced brands including Eggs by Ellah.

The farms have since been closed but Snowdale still produces eggs at a large Gingin operation, where it claims hens are stocked at no more than 1500 per hectare.

At the former Perth operations, the barns were overstocked and had only one exit, which was too small, so half of the hens probably never got outside.

Chickens had to compete with up to 17,000 others before they could exit the steel sheds.

According to Humane Society International, which alerted the ACCC to a neighbour’s claims about the company, some of the sheds held up to 14 chickens per square metre.

Snowdale was fined $750,000 in the Federal Court in Perth on Tuesday and must also pay $300,000 in court costs.

Humane Society International said the highest penalty previously handed down for such a case was $300,000.

Snowdale, a major supplier to Coles and Woolworths, has also been ordered to undergo a consumer law compliance program and publish a corrective notice.

Justice Antony Siopis said the conduct was deliberate and “particularly serious”.

“This is because the contravening conduct comprised the making of misleading statements about a staple food product purchased by a very large number of consumers,” he said.

“The fact that during the relevant period, Snowdale sold more than 60 million eggs as ‘free range’ eggs is testimony to the extent to which Snowdale’s contravening conduct affected consumers.

“Consumers in Western Australia, during the relevant period, paid a premium of between $5 million to $8.5 million for a product which they did not receive.”

Not all of that went to Snowdale, however, with Justice Siopis estimating the company itself gained between $1.7 million and $1.9 million in extra revenue “and probably even more”.

Outside court, Humane Society International’s Dinny Laurence said the penalty was a major win.

“We think that this is a great result,” Ms Laurence told reporters.

“More than the pecuniary penalty, I think that the sanctions that have been imposed on Snowdale are incredibly important..

“There is a monitoring program, which is a wonderful thing. To have a penalty for the past is one thing but to restrain future transgressions of this kind are another.”

Ms Laurence said a class action was “a very real possibility”.

Poor sugar labelling failing kids teeth

Calls for greater transparency on added sugar in packaged foods has received the backing of Australian dentists.

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Excess sugar in the diet is not only linked to the obesity epidemic, but has been blamed for the increasing rates of dental decay seen in children as young as one.

With new analysis revealing seven out of 10 packaged goods sold on supermarket shelves contain added sugar, President of the Australian Dental Association Dr Hugo Sachs says reform is needed to ensure the oral health of young Australians.

“Nationally, over 24,000 children aged 14 years or under were admitted to hospital due to dental conditions – these hospitalisations were assessed as being potentially preventable. Over half of six-year-olds have experienced tooth decay in their baby teeth and up to half of 12-year-olds have experienced tooth decay in their permanent teeth,” Dr Sachs said.

Researchers at the George Institute for Public Health analysed more than 34,000 packaged foods – about 18,000 discretionary foods and nearly 16,000 core foods like milk, bread and cheese.

A significantly higher proportion of discretionary foods contained added sugar compared to core foods – 87 per cent versus 52 per cent.

Soft drinks, cakes, pies, ice cream, pastries and processed meats are the worst offenders.

The findings, published in the journal Nutrients, have led to calls for manufacturers to declare the amount of added sugar on their packaging and calculated in the Health Star Ratings

“Good sugars are an integral part of a healthy diet, and we need to be able to separate sugars naturally present in dairy, fruits and vegetables from sugars added during manufacturing,” said the Institute’s Professor Bruce Neal.

The George Institute research will be submitted to the federal government’s current review of the Health Star system.

Professor Neal says only labelling total sugar content as opposed to added sugar can be misguiding.

This is particularly so, he says, for discretionary products such as muesli bars, sauces and spreads, which contain a lot of added sugar but get a relatively high star ratings in the current system.

Earlier this year, a Choice report found that if consumers could identify added sugars on food packs they could avoid 26 teaspoons of sugar each day.

With 50 per cent of Australian adults consuming more added sugar than they should, there is a clear need for improved labelling, Prof Neal said.

“We’d encourage food manufacturers to start labelling added sugars and government to provide the framework,” he said.

“Australians would be much better off if they could quickly and easily see how much sugar has been added.”

The oral health of Australians would also greatly improve, says Dr Sachs.

“The George Institute’s review shows that the Health Star Ratings are effectively hiding the presence of these added sugars in a number of products; meaning that consumers are inadvertently exposing themselves to increased risk of tooth decay,” Dr Sachs said.

Lululemon fined for misleading refund rule

Athleisure brand Lululemon Athletica Australia has forked out more than $32,000 after it was caught falsely telling customers they were not entitled to a refund or replacement products, the consumer watchdog says.

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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission issued Lululemon three infringement notices, totalling $32,400, saying the retailer, which sells yoga-inspired athletic apparel, made false or misleading representations about consumer guarantee rights.

The ACCC alleges Lululemon’s website, in ads for sale products, falsely stated that consumers were not entitled to a return, remedy, refund or exchange of a product under any circumstance.

The activewear giant claimed all sale items were “yours for keeps, so no returns and no exchanges”.

The popular Canadian yoga and running brand, which opened its doors in Australia in 2004, also refused to give a customer a refund for products she considered faulty.

ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said Lululemon made these representations to customers when Australian consumer law did provide for a remedy for faulty products.

“If a product or service fails to meet a consumer guarantee, people are automatically entitled to a remedy,” Ms Rickard said.

“If products develop a fault which constitutes a major failure, customers are entitled to a refund, even if the product was purchased on sale.”

Under Australian consumer law, purchased products and services come with automatic guarantees that they will work and do what consumers expect.

A retailer can’t refuse to help a customer seeking a remedy and can’t direct a customer to the manufacturer or importer, the ACCC said.

Lululemon on Tuesday said it had resolved the issue and made sure its commitment to consumer rights is clear and in accordance with the law.

“Our language in-store and online has been updated to ensure consistency and clarity for our guests across all of our channels,” the company said.

Lululemon said if a product did not perform for a customer “we’ll take it back”.

“We always endeavour to deliver the best possible experience for our guests in-store and online and if we ever fall short, we make it right,” the company said.

Cale Hooker riding AFL’s bumps with grin

Essendon’s Cale Hooker says he’ll continue to ride the emotional rollercoaster despite accusations of bullying a young AFL opponent.

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Hooker kicked four last-quarter goals against North Melbourne on Saturday as the Bombers ran away from their close rivals.

The 28-year-old’s reaction caught the eye as much as his goals.

Playing on third-gamer Dan Neilson, Hooker let the 21-year-old know all about his output – slapping him on the head and bumping the young Kangaroo in a brutal introduction to senior football.

Hooker suggested all was fair in the tough-as-nails AFL.

“At three quarter-time I said to myself I wanted to bring my energy and passion to the game,” he said.

“It was a close game. It helped us get across the line.

“I didn’t intend for it to be disrespectful. I hope it didn’t come across like that.

“But if people are going to criticise me for being emotional and energetic and passionate, they can do that. It’s not going to worry me too much.”

Hooker will celebrate his 150th AFL match on Sunday against the Western Bulldogs.

His five-goal haul against the Kangaroos was his equal best in 149 senior games, matching his round 12 output against Port Adelaide.

He’s swung between the forward line and defence through his career but is enjoying a spell alongside Joe Daniher in the Bombers attack.

“He’s certainly coming along well. We’re forming a good partnership,” Hooker said.

That doesn’t mean his stint up front is forever.

“I’m loving playing with Joey,” he said.

“But I’ve learned in footy you can’t look too far ahead.

“For this season I’m certainly a forward … I’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds.

Hooker is keen to rectify his record of not playing in a single final in 2017.

The West Australian said that was a driving force pulling him back to the game after his enforced season out last year due to the club’s doping scandal.

“When was I kicking the flat footies around St Bernards Oval in the mud I had a bit of time for reflection,” he said.

“I certainly appreciate being back out there this year. It’s our goal to build as a group and play finals.”

Vic fire services need overhaul: Lapsley

A restructure of Victoria’s fire services is imperative, says an emergency management chief, who insists current arrangements are the worst in the country.

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Craig Lapsley was strident in his belief the state’s fire services need reform in his submission to a parliamentary inquiry looking at controversial changes.

The commissioner of Emergency Management Victoria on Tuesday said it was time for a change as the Andrews government pushes to make the Country Fire Authority volunteer-only and merge paid firefighters with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade to create Fire Rescue Victoria.

“It’s time for change and my heart comes out of the CFA because I came up in the CFA,” Mr Lapsley said.

“Victorian fire services as they are currently structured are the worst Australia.”

Mr Lapsley also says he believes Victoria needs just one fire service, but acknowledged that would not be politically possible.

MFB acting chief officer Paul Stacchino said he too thought one fire service would be best, but the model put forward could work.

However he also warned against transferring current CFA workplace agreements to the new FRV because that would continue existing industrial issues.

CFA chief officer Steve Warrington told the inquiry there was merit in making the service volunteer-only to give it autonomy.

“The CFA is essentially a volunteer organisation. That’s the strength we bring to the table,” he said.

He wants sector-wide reform to streamline recruiting and uniformity in equipment.

But Jack Rush QC, who helped in the Black Saturday bushfires royal commission, slammed dismantling of the “world class” CFA to “achieve some sort of industrial outcome.”

“It cannot possibly be and should not be dressed up as in the interests of emergency services,” he told the inquiry.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he did not agree with Mr Rush’s conclusions.

“Anyone who thinks that a fire service that was devised back in 1958 is fit for purpose in 2017, I would respectfully say that’s wrong,” he told reporters.

The royal commission into the 2009 deadly bushfires heard from three world experts on organisational change.

Mr Rush said they each indicated incremental change often provided better results than radical change, which was what the government wanted to do.

The government insists reform is needed to improve safety and break the CFA pay dispute impasse that has seen a minister resign, fire board sacked and the federal government intervene.

Tuesday was the last day of scheduled public hearings and a report will be prepared for when parliament returns on August 8.