GERMAN-based supermarket Lidl is facing a massive £34,491 bill in fines and legal fees after misleading customers by mis-labelling its extra lean meat. Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire county council trading standards brought the cases to court after they
GERMAN-based supermarket Lidl is facing a massive £34,491 bill in fines and legal fees after misleading customers by mis-labelling its extra lean meat.
Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire county council trading standards brought the cases to court after they discovered Lidl was selling meat labelled as extra lean despite its having double the recommended fat content.
The total in fines and court costs ordered by Lincolnshire Magistrates is a record result for Cambridgeshire for a joint prosecution of this kind, the council said.
Lidl misled customers in March and St Neots by selling Braemoor Extra Lean Steak Beef Mince claiming it had typically less than 7 per cent fat.
However, tests carried out by Cambridgeshire County Council Trading Standards over 18 months discovered packs actually contained fat levels ranging from 10.1 per cent to 16.3 per cent.
Even after receiving earlier advice from Trading Standards the stores continued to sell the meat with no marked reduction of the seven per cent fat content declared on the pack, the Bench heard.
By law products described as lean mince beef should have a maximum fat content of seven per cent, Cambridgeshire's Frank Chandley, prosecuting for both councils, said. The Association of Public Analysts says that products described as extra lean should not consistently have fat levels of more than five per cent, he added.
The packs of beef mince were bought by Trading Standards in March and St Neots on November 16, 2004.
Magistrates heard how Lidl had told its supplier that it could have a three per cent leeway on the fat content. This meant it would accept a fat content of up to 10 per cent when its labels said seven per cent.
Lidl pleaded guilty to a specimen charge of breaching Section 14 of the 1990 Food Safety Act by selling the meat in March with too high a fat content. The company was fined £10,000 for this offence.
The supermarket also admitted a specimen charge of breaching Section 15 of the same Act by selling the product in St Neots with a misleading label. Magistrates fined Lidl £4,600 for this offence.
The company also pleaded guilty to four charges brought by Lincolnshire Trading Standards under the Trade Descriptions Act and was fined £13,000 in total for these similar offences.
Magistrates also ordered the chain to pay Cambridgeshire £4,797 in costs and £2,094 to Lincolnshire.
The company claimed it had stringent systems in place to ensure all food products met quality standards.
Afterwards, Susan Pembroke, investigating officer for Cambridgeshire Trading Standards, said: "I am pleased with the magistrates' decision. This was a long drawn out investigation involving scientific testing using the Public Analyst. If the company had listened to our advice this need never have come to court."
Malcolm Taylor, head of programmes for Trading Standards added: "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. Shoppers quite rightly rely on labelling to make informed decisions.
"But the actions of this supermarket took that right away from them. We take our duty of protecting the rights of consumers very seriously. We much prefer to work with companies to make sure they stick to the guidelines, as we tried to do in this case, but we will prosecute businesses which continue to flout the law."
Trading Standards successfully prosecuted Kepak UK Limited, who provided the meat, at Huntingdonshire Magistrates' Court in May. The company pleaded guilty to breaching the Trade Descriptions Act and the Food Safety Act. It was fined a total of £4,000 and ordered to pay £2,000 in legal costs.