Iceland boss blames councils over 'poor meat quality'


Iceland chief executive Malcolm Walker says he would not eat "value" branded meat from supermarkets.

Local councils are to blame for driving down food quality with cheap food contracts for schools and hospitals, the boss of Iceland has said.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Malcolm Walker said the "problem really lies" with councils buying food from the poorly supplied catering industry.

Retailers should not be blamed for the horsemeat crisis, Mr Walker added.

The Local Government Association said councils were not to blame for what had been "a major supply chain failure".

Mr Walker's comments followed a call on Sunday from the boss of Waitrose for tighter meat testing controls.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is to meet representatives from Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Tesco, Asda, the Food and Drink Federation, and the Institute of Grocery Distribution on Monday afternoon.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokeswoman said the meeting would allow Mr Paterson to get an update on testing results and find out more about what businesses are doing to restore consumer confidence.

'Cheap food'

Iceland was among UK retailers, including Tesco, Asda, Lidl and Aldi, which withdrew products found to test positive for horse DNA.

After Iceland removed a line of quarter-pounder beefburgers last month, the north Wales-based firm said it "would be working closely with its suppliers" to ensure its products met "high standards of quality and integrity".

Merrick Cockell, chairman of the LGA, rejected Mr Walker's claims

Mr Walker told the BBC: "British supermarkets have got a fantastic reputation for food safety, they go to enormous lengths to protect their brand."

He insisted supermarkets were already extremely transparent about food quality and testing.

"If we're going to blame somebody let's start with local authorities, because there's a whole side to this industry which is invisible - that's the catering industry. Schools, hospitals - it's massive business for cheap food and local authorities award contracts based purely on one thing - price," he said.

He added: "Iceland has never sold economy products - we do not sell cheap food... we know where all our food comes from, we follow the supply chain right the way through and it's very short."

Supermarkets were not the real culprits in "driving down food quality", he said.

"Dodgy cutting houses and backstreet manufacturers have been supplying products to the catering industry and a lot of that is bought by local authorities for schools and hospitals - that's where the problem really lies," he added.

Merrick Cockell, chairman of the LGA, said the relationship between a council and a caterer was the same as that between a retailer and a consumer.

Start Quote

With monitoring and control tighter than ever before, quality of food served in schools has risen, not fallen”

End Quote Local Authorities Caterers Association

"We have a contract with that retailer to provide us with what it says on the wrapper and that is exactly the same with local government providing contracts for school meals or, indeed, the NHS with hospitals.

"Clearly in some cases, relatively few cases, that has not been happening and actually for the boss of Iceland to appear and make that suggestion... well I hope he knows more about what's actually going on in retailing than he clearly does in contracting and local government."

A Local Authorities Caterers Association spokeswoman said it was "disappointed" with Mr Walker's remarks.

"Local authorities across the country have been totally supportive of driving food standards up in schools over the last few years," she told BBC News.

She insisted providers adhered to stringent "procurement policies and procedures for sourcing and ensuring quality control of food products for school menus".

"With monitoring and control tighter than ever before, quality of food served in schools has risen, not fallen," she added.

'Cheap commodity'

Waitrose also withdrew a number of products when the horsemeat scandal came to light.

Although none tested positive for horse DNA, some own-brand meatballs were found to contain traces of pork.

Managing director Mark Price said the John Lewis-owned firm would set up its own freezing plant to prevent cross-contamination.

Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Price urged the food industry to apply "renewed rigour" to their testing regimes.

He said: "If something good comes of the current scandal, I hope it is the opening up of a debate around the true economics of food.

"The simple fact is that food cannot be seen as a cheap commodity when so many factors are working against that premise, including population growth."

Meanwhile, former Food Standards Agency manager John Young told the Sunday Times he had alerted the government in 2011 to the "debacle" of horse passports, which were supposed to stop the painkiller bute entering the food chain, but was ignored.

A Defra spokesperson responded that Mr Paterson had asked the FSA's chief executive and Defra officials to look into the allegations, insisting it was "clear Defra and the FSA have taken action on the issue... when information has been passed to us".

"In January 2012, Defra and the FSA increased checks on horse passports, meaning every horse was checked twice, and from last week no horse can enter the food chain until it is confirmed to be free of bute," they said.

The FSA said it had submitted a "full file" on its horsemeat investigation to Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency, with information being analysed in 35 countries in Europe and elsewhere.

UK food prices change from 1980-2012

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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    "Retailers should not be blamed for the horsemeat crisis, Mr Walker added."
    This guy for real?Its his suppliers and others mislabelling stuff and contaminating food with horsemeat and he doesn't accept any responsibility?I never shopped at Iceland,just been given a reason not to bother starting now.All this scandal is down to just 2 things, greed and profit margins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    So much for healthy eating in schools. 'Market forces and the resulting cuts equals dodgy cuts of meat for our kids... Always seems to be the bottom line, the most vulnerable pay the price of greed. Let's hope that horse was all that found its way into their cottage pie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    food will never be cheap whilst farmers are paid to keep feilds empty, is what he should of said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The catering supply chain to hospitals and schools via council deals is a separate issue that must also be investigated.

    The usual "in good faith" excuse will be trotted out by supermarkets. Why are supermarkets so ignorant of their supply chain. It's either because they knew but swept it under the carpet, or they deliberately didn't ask because they knew what the answer would be. Incompetence!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Ridiculous. Councils don't buy food for hospitals, the NHS do. And they don't decide what a supermarket puts on its shelves as 'value'. Large supermarket chains engaged in aggressive competition and price undercutting to grab customer base and maximise shareholder profits for less cost, make that decision. Who gave this guy his job? We're not stupid Mr Price.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Retailers simply cannot blame consumers for this mess. If these adulterated products were not on sale, they could not be purchased, by individuals or councils.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    of course the consumer, be it an individual or council, wants the cheapest and best product, thats how it works, better quality for less money, otherwise they go somewhere else, now the provider has to reduce costs, be it in quality control or chucking in a few bits to bulk the stock out, now if you want good quality you pay more, Simple really!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    As a consumer, you get what you pay for. When it comes to buying food, if you buy cheap, you're going to get cheap. It's like expecting a cheap £230 Orion TV to be just as good as an £800 Panasonic.

    When it comes to schools, hospitals, & prisons, the Government & Local Councils are to blame though. They should increase the budget for their catering departments so they're not forced to buy cheap

  • Comment number 14.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Councils have not run hospitals since 1948. We have a National Health Service, although this seems to have been missed by the boss of Iceland. And, following the Jamie Oliver campaign a few years ago, schools have been demanding better quality not worse quality food. And neither schools or hospitals buy their food from supermarkets - so why would what they do affect supermarket supply chains?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    ahh the mud slinging starts, lets blame anyone we can, could it be that there is a collective responsibility from all involved? Its a simple case of a blind eye being turned because profits are king, and quite frankly all involved expected to get away with it, and probably had been getting away with it for a long time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The idea of eating a horse is revolting. I'd much rather stick to those cuddly little lambs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Oh yes, good cop out. What next - Dogs milk?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    My local tory councillors still recive a salary and are ordering I pads - the local town centre is run down so they've decided to implement parking charges on every street near the centre - bloody useless hypocrites

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Iceland are missing the point, its not councils who are to blame for looking for cheap food, heaven knows every householder does the same. But, companies like Iceland themselves who profit out of this. They can still ensure that what goes into their food is sound. Iceland have shot themselves in the foot here and deserve not to be in business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Is this the Iceland known and loved as a high quality, high value food retailer?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    This chap is talking a load of horsesh....

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I am getting neck ache from watching the blame ball being batted back and forth over the net. The umpires should put a stop to it but they are holiday, again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    This is just blaming someone else. If coucils and hospitals give a specification which is not met by the supplier then fraud has been committed. If super-markets sell something other than what is listed in the contents then fraud has been committed by them. Take responsibility for your actions!

  • Comment number 3.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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