September 24, 2008 / 11:04 PM / 11 years ago

Humane Scty: Egg firms fix prices, mask cruelty

WASHINGTON, Sept 24 (Reuters) - The Humane Society of the United States asked for a federal investigation into price fixing and false advertising to hide cruelty on factory farms where most of the nation’s eggs are produced, the animal rights group said on Wednesday.

The United Egg Producers, which the Humane Society said represents 95 percent of domestic egg production, worked to push up domestic egg prices and push competitors out of the marketplace, said the group, which asked the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to investigate its allegations.

The Humane Society also accused the egg producers of creating animal husbandry guidelines that work to “maintain the materially false and misleading impression that egg-laying hens are confined under ‘humane and ethical’ conditions.”

The society argued that eggs marked with “UEP Certified” mislead consumers into believing that chickens that produce the eggs are well treated, saying that the producers group has no enforcement mechanism if it learns that hens are abused.

The petition was filed with the Federal Trade Commission, which investigates antitrust violations and instances of misleading advertising. It was also filed with the Justice Department, which is already looking into allegations of price fixing in egg products, such as powdered egg used in pancake batter.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the three largest egg processors had received grand jury subpoenas for information on pricing and marketing of liquid and powdered eggs.

While fresh eggs were not a part of that probe, the Journal said that egg producers acted together to export 1 percent to 2 percent of eggs intended for U.S. sale, with the result being a sharp rise in prices for U.S. consumers. The Journal said the eggs were sold abroad for less than producers would have earned if they had been sold in this country.

The egg producers listed on the Humane Society’s petitions were: United Egg Producers, United Egg Allied, Cal-Maine Foods, Inc. (CALM.O), Daybreak Foods, Inc., Golden Oval Eggs, LLC, Michael Foods, Inc., Midwest Poultry Services, L.P., Moark, LLC, National Food Corp., Nucal Foods, Inc., Norco Ranch, Inc., Pilgrim’s Pride Corp PPC.N, Rose Acre Farms, Inc., and R.W. Sauder, Inc.

Reporting by Diane Bartz

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