Mince case firm must pay £6,000

THE health of people on controlled diets, such as diabetics, could have been put at risk by eating extra-lean mince that actually contained up to 16.3 per cent fat, Huntingdonshire magistrates heard. The mince, sold in Lidl stores in St Neots and March,

THE health of people on controlled diets, such as diabetics, could have been put at risk by eating "extra-lean" mince that actually contained up to 16.3 per cent fat, Huntingdonshire magistrates heard.

The mince, sold in Lidl stores in St Neots and March, was branded as containing "typically less than seven per cent fat", Frank Chandley, prosecuting for Cambridgeshire County Council, told the court.

The manufacturers, Kepak UK Limited, of Preston, Lancashire, were fined a total of £4,000 after admitting two charges under the Food Safety Act and the Trade Descriptions Act. The company was also ordered to contribute £2,000 towards the county council's £2,300 costs of investigating and prosecuting the case.

Wimbledon-based supermarket chain Lidl UK GmBH, which has denied four charges related to the sale of the product in each of the two stores, is due to face trial in August.

Mr Chandley said Trading Standards officers' attention was brought to the product - Braemoor extra-lean steak beef mince - marked as typically less than seven per cent fat, after an officer bought a pack in July 2003 and found it actually contained 7.91 per cent.

When two officers bought 12 packs in the St Neots store and six in the March store in November 2004, they sent them to the public analyst as a total of nine samples. The analyst found the fat content to be between 10.1 and 16.3 per cent, the latter more than twice the fat content claimed.

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Mr Chandley said regulations described lean mince as having no more than seven per cent.

"Extra lean should contain even less. The Food Analysts Association says that, if the fat content is above five per cent, it is unacceptable to call it extra-lean.

"There are certain medical conditions where people rely on labelling for a healthy diet. They could well be laying themselves open to adverse effects with a condition such as diabetes."

Greg Earnshaw, for Kepak, said the seven per cent was a guideline. The contract with the German-owned supermarket allowed a three per cent variation on the fat content. He added that minced beef not described as lean contained an average of 18 per cent fat.

"Kepak has pleaded guilty because of what it says on the pack. Kepak is not responsible for that," said Mr Earnshaw.

"At the outset of the process, there is a visual check before the meat goes into the mincer.

"It's a subjective test with an opportunity for human error. That can never be as accurate as a chemical test. This is a natural product. Levels do vary even between each production run.

"This is not the worst case of its kind. The argument is this: what does it say on the packet and what have they produced?"

The magistrates said Lidl accounted for 25 per cent of Kepak's turnover. The "typically less than seven per cent" had been changed this year.

"The public have an expectation that the product they buy is what it says on the box. That clearly wasn't the case," they said.

After the case, Malcolm Taylor, Trading Standards head of programmes, said: "If left unchecked, this kind of mis-labelling could have serious consequences, not only for those watching their weight, but for people who must eat healthily because of medical conditions.

"Cambridgeshire Trading Standards takes its consumer protection role very seriously.

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