A businessman has been jailed and ordered to pay £3.25m for his part in a multimillion-pound egg fraud.

Defra alleged that Keith Owen of Worcestershire-based Heart of England Eggs had passed off millions of eggs laid by caged birds as either free-range or organic.

Owen pleaded guilty to three counts of false accounting. He was jailed for three years and ordered to pay £3.25m in costs and a confiscation order.

“Following the allegations, the British Lion scheme has strengthened its code of practice to ensure its traceability is robust, with on-farm stamping, a new database to track eggs throughout the system and unannounced audits,” said Charles Bourns, chair of the National Farmers Union poultry board.

“The confiscation order and custodial sentence sends out a strong message that this kind of activity will not be tolerated.”

Since 1 January this year all Lion-marked eggs produced from cage systems have been stamped on the farm with the production and producer code.

Free range and organic eggs will be stamped on-farm from 1 January 2011.

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