Last night, the news analysis program Kastljós revealed deplorable conditions at an egg farm, which for years has been marketed as taking exceptionally good care of its hens and being environmentally friendly.
The company, Brúnegg, states on its website: “[The eggs] come from free-range hens (not caged) which lay eggs in nests and receive exceptionally strong and good feed, love and care. The treatment returns a healthy quality product.”
That kind of marketing earned the company a generous return. The price charged for the eggs is 40 percent higher than that of other eggs in the market, and the company enjoys a 20 percent market share.
For years, Brúnegg has been under the surveillance of the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), which visited its two farms—in Borgarfjörður, West Iceland, and Mosfellsbær, near Reykjavík—numerous times and prepared reports about the visits, counting close to 1,000 pages. As early as 2007, MAST believed Brúnegg did not fulfill standards required for calling itself environmentally friendly.
Brúnegg, owned by two brothers, has been assessed daily fines, totaling ISK 2.6 million (USD 23,000,EUR 21,700), but their total profits 2009-2016 amounted to about ISK 215 million (USD 1.9 million, EUR 1,8 million), Stundin reports. Despite large profits, the owners failed to immunize their birds against avian cholera, which affected the birds, citing a lack of funds.
The most alarming MAST report dates back to October 6, last year. That’s when the shocking video, which you can watch here, was taken at the farm in Borgarfjörður.
The report noted that the birds were very dirty and had lost much of their feathers. “The air quality is very bad in all of the buildings. Where the ceiling is low… the air quality was poor enough (the smell of ammonia) that the inspectors had trouble breathing.”
The buildings housing the hens were also found to be much too crowded. Rules for environmentally friendly farms indicate that up to eight hens may be placed in one square meter, but on this farm, they were up to 15. The feathers of 95 percent of the hens were in a bad or very bad condition and hygiene was severely lacking.
In 2012, mice were seen running along the farm’s conveyor belt, and feces had flooded from feces storage areas into the hen houses.
Although MAST was aware of problems within the company since 2007, consumers were kept in the dark. Reporters were twice denied access to information about the matter last year. Not until rules about access to information at MAST were changed in April this year did reporters finally get the information they requested.
Late in 2013, MAST sent a letter to the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture, stating that consumers were being deceived by Brúnegg, but never received a response suggesting solutions. Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson told RÚV this morning he was speechless when watching last night’s program and the only explanation he provided for the lack of response from the ministry was that the letter had to have been lost when the staff member in charge of handling the matter left the job.
RÚV reports that not MAST, but local farmers’ associations were meant to ensure companies lived up to the environmentally friendly standard, but they failed to do so.
Since the program aired last night, numerous grocery stores have announced they no longer carry eggs from Brúnegg.