LONDON/March 19 -- Hen-loving or health-minded British shoppers were conned into buying as many as 500 million falsely labeled "free-range" eggs, a newspaper reported.

The Times of London, which reported on the "free-range fakes" scam in November, said Monday that the operation may have been going on for as long as five years.

Because consumers are willing to shell out more money for free-range eggs, the scam may have cost British shoppers as much as $97 million, the newspaper reported.

The Times reported that the eggs have been shipped to Britain by truck from mainland Europe and British and EU investigators and trying to track down who is behind the scheme.

On Nov. 16, the Times reported that a criminal investigation was focusing on the wholesale business Hearts of England Eggs, near Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.

From the March 26, 2007, Prepared Foods e-Flash