Horse meat – Whose fault is it?

The usual stance adopted by big businesses when something goes wrong is to lay low and say nothing. I think that they do this because (a) saying something particularly when being aggressively interviewed will simply make the public perception of the big business worse than it is already (b) hoping that shortly the media attention will die down and saying anything will simply serve to keep up the media attention and (c) eventually the matter may be disposed of my an insincere apology.

The big supermarkets (with the notable exception of Morrisons) have laid low and said nothing about the scandal of them selling horse meat as beef. They have nothing to say because it is quite clear that they are responsible. This is not a question of trust, regulation or systems. Some people blame the regulator, others blame the government, others blame the opposition and some blame the people who wanted cheap food, but in truth where a business sells something by description the law clearly states that the goods must correspond with the description.

This has been the law of England for hundreds of years and is at present codified in Section 13 of the Sale of Goods Act 1979. The wording of the section is quite straightforward:-

“Where there is a contract for the sale of goods by description, there is an implied that the goods will correspond with the description.”

So it is clear that some of the supermarkets have sold many goods which they described as containing “100%” beef” which were not 100% beef. Horse meat is not beef. Now the weasel words of advertising and marketing may enable 100% beef to include mechanically recovered meat, fat, gristle and even testicles, but they certainly do not include by any stretch of the imagination horse meat.

So all those supermarkets that have sold, for example, lasagna as containing “100% beef” are in breach of contract with their customers who have bought a product that did not comply with its description.

A breach of contract enables the party not in breach (in this case the ordinary customer) to damages. Each customer is certainly entitled to nominal damages and there may be special cases where the nominal damages may be insufficient to remedy the wrong.

I await with interest to learn what the supermarkets propose to do about compensating their customers for the breach of the implied term in that they sold goods that did not comply with their description.

3 Responses

  1. I read an interesting article in the Independent about the similarities between the horse-meat scandal and the collapse of our banks: you should check it out, it’s compliant and contrasting with what you say here 🙂 Nice post.

  2. Yes, I agree. The banks are responsible for what they did, as are the supermarkets responsible for what they sell. Thanks


  3. I have just read that a recent law banning horses from being used on Romanian roads may be responsible for the surge in the fraudulent sales of horsemeat on the European beef market, a French politician said yesterday. Horse-drawn carts were a common form of transport for centuries in Romania, but hundreds of thousands of the animals are feared to have been sent to the abattoir after the recent change in road rules.

    The banks are not in control, the Rothschilds through Patterson in the 1600’s a once fine Scottish banker are, if we continue to part with our labour as sweat for their money with added interest nothing is going to change, we have to make another system, where nobody owns the money, period.

    Again the banks are not entirely responsible, our ellected government will eventually stand trial for their indirect violences towards the people who voted them into power, they have let their followers down, thus they becon to anothers call, not the peoples.

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