The Federal Court has ordered Baiada Poultry Pty Ltd and Bartter Enterprises Pty Ltd, the processers and suppliers of Steggles branded chicken products to pay a total of $400,000 in civil pecuniary penalties.
The Court declared that Baiada and Bartter engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct (or conduct liable to mislead and deceive) when it described on product packaging and in advertising that its meat chickens were ‘free to roam in large barns’.
The Court declared that prior to day 42 of a growth cycle that could be up to 56 days the companies’ chickens were, in fact, kept at such stocking densities that they did not have a largely uninhibited ability to move around at will in an aimless manner.
The Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc (ACMF), the peak industry body for Australia’s chicken meat industry, was also ordered to pay $20,000 in penalties.
The Court declared ACMF engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct (or conduct liable to mislead or deceive), when it claimed in publications on its website that meat chickens produced in Australia were ‘free to roam’ or able to ‘roam freely’ in large barns. The Court made its declaration against ACMF confined to the extent that they relate to the stocking densities of Baiada and Bartter’s meat chickens and that of Turi Foods Pty Ltd.
Turi Foods, the processor and supplier of La Ionica Poultry products, was previously a respondent in the matter but had settled its proceedings with the ACCC in December 2011. The Court handed down its findings in July 2013 against the remaining respondents, Baiada, Bartter and the ACMF, after the ACCC instituted proceedings in September 2011.
“Credence claims, which represent that a product possesses a premium attribute, are a priority area for the ACCC; particularly those in the food and beverage industry with the potential to influence consumers and disadvantage competitors,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
“Consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions that value the types of claims that directly affect the integrity of the product, such as where or how something was made, grown or produced.”
“Consumers must be able to trust that products match descriptions so they can make informed purchasing decisions. Misleading credence claims can also undermine the level playing field and disadvantage other suppliers,” Mr Sims said.
In making its orders, the Court also ordered ACMF to send a precribed letter to its members advising of the Court outcome, with a copy of the Court’s judgment enclosed, and ordered ACMF’s staff to attend trade practices compliance training.
The Court will consider submissions from the parties as to costs.
Justice Tracey’s earlier judgment against Turi Foods for engaging in false, misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to similar conduct, included orders by consent that Turi Foods pay a pecuniary penalty of $100,000, publish corrective advertisements and implement a compliance training program.