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Selling horsemeat as beef - what are your shoppers' rights?

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Horsemeat was found in products labelled beef lasagne

Consumers who unwittingly ate horsemeat in their frozen food could sue supermarkets under the Sale of Goods Act, says a De Montfort University (DMU) law lecturer – but don’t expect to be paid a fortune in compensation.

 Consumer law expert Martin Morgan-Taylor, of the Leicester De Montfort Law School, said the recent cases of horsemeat being found in products purporting to containing beef was a potential breach of contract.

The scandal first hit the headlines in January after food inspectors announced that horse meat had been discovered in burgers stocked by supermarket chains including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl.

Food sellers have been told to test all processed beef products after some frozen foods contained up to 100 per cent horsemeat. There have been concerns that bute – an anti-inflammatory drug given to racehorses – had entered the food chain. This can be harmful to humans.

People have been asked to return any affected products that they have in their freezer to the shop they bought them from.

Mr Morgan-Taylor said: “The legal issue is one of description and labelling. If you have something that’s described as beef then it should have beef in it. There is a potential breach of contract for consumers who are buying one thing and actually receiving another.

“You as a consumer have a direct contractual remedy in law, and that is to claim for losses that you have suffered. In many cases that would only be the amount of money you spent on the product and possibly some allowance for returning it, such as petrol cost.

“However, I think the wider question is the issues this raises about the quality of food which is being sold in general. I would argue that the bargain basement-price burgers and mechanically reclaimed meat, which often have lots of preservatives in them, should be tested for these chemicals and they should be listed.

“I would hope people will start thinking about the food they are buying and where it comes from.”

 Leicestershire County Council withdrew two beef products from school dinners over fears they could contain horse meat.

Beef grill steaks and minced beef will no longer be served to youngsters after the council sought reassurances from suppliers. Tests are now underway to ensure the products contain only beef following revelations that some products in the food chain contain horse meat.

 

Posted on Monday 18th March 2013

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