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 42.

    "We follow the supply chain right the way through and its very short" - from horse to burger to freezer?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    "Iceland has never sold economy products - we do not sell cheap food." Ha ha ha ha!

    Who was fraudulently selling horsemeat to the general public? Oh yes, the retailers - including Iceland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Buyers have to take a lot of the blame. You can not con an honest man. Buyer knows to make a pie costs x if supplier sells for less than x Buyer can turn a blind eye and say bargain or can question why is it cheaper than cost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Dont deflect blame and lay fault anywhere else Mr Iceland. Your type of company and the big supermakets are the culprits in squeezing the supply chain (Farmers and producers). Profit before pride and ethics speaks out again.

    You would not be able to work for Ronseal.

  • Comment number 38.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    You also are behind the times. My mother was in hospital for cancer treatment and asked us to bring in food as the stuff provided tasted like 'wallpaper paste'. It was a PFI hospital and catering was done by an outside contractor. Other patients relatives were bringing in food. Most schools, I am a teacher, get their food through the main distributers, the type that supply supermarkets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    This is what you get for making the wrong cuts in the wrong places. Typical Tory c*ock up that leaves us wide open to the spivs in our uncontrolled private sector `market`.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I listened o Mr Iceland this morning and was impressed by him.
    His pointing the finger at contracts won on the basis of price only is correct. Quality is ignored - there are standards set in awarding contracts and it is up to the councils etc to ensure that the criteria is met. If it isn't then it is up to them to cancel the contracts and take appropriate action.
    If u pay peanuts you get monkeys!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    It's always the councils' fault.
    Councils never put horsemeat in the food, or made Tesco/Lidl/Whoever buy from any particular supplier.
    UK Missed a trick when many countries stopped buying british in the wake of BSE.....that's when everything should've been done here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    This is ALL about the supermarkets treating the consumer as fools and then being found out and appearing to be transparent. If supermarkets were transparent then they'd have put horse meat on the ingredients labels because if their so called testing was as rigorous as is now claimed then they would definitely have known that their burgers etc contained horse. Supermarkets only want your cash

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I think some people took some chances to make money but I can't understand how they never expected to get caught - it was bound to happen but it all comes down to greed in the end. Generally in life not much that is quality is free (or cheap) and you generally get what you pay for. I'm only surprised that it's taken so long for folk to start asking how best quality beef came so cheap...

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    4. Iliacus
    "... If councils and hospitals give a specification which is not met by the supplier then fraud has been committed."

    Another variation on govt procurement. Put a local govt officer (or school cook / hospital catering manager) up against a food industry salesman and you know what the result will be. When it comes to "trading", is one party underskilled, and the other unscrupulous?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    “Retailers should not be blamed for the horsemeat crisis.” Mr Walker [said}. But hasn’t horsemeat been found in a number of ‘beef’ products sold by some of our major food chains? I should have thought that the supermarkets would have taken a close interest in the quality and provenance of what they sell and would be prepared to be held accountable. Seems to me like pots and kettles!

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Have a look at Iceland's website. They are flogging 8 burgers for £1. Ten sausages for £1. How much cheaper can you get ?

    All they do is sell food as cheaply as possible - and yet the boss of Iceland thinks that's wrong ? It's your business mate - are you familiar with the term "hypocrite" ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    That doesn't wash with me, as far as I'm aware hospitals pay contractors £60 a time to change light bulbs, or at least they used to, rather than buy a set of step ladders for £50. The public sector has money to burn, although maybe the people who run hospitals don't have any mates in the meat industry who's pockets they can line with our tax monies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    So why do supermarkets such as Iceland use the cheapest supplier possible? or put the screws on their current suppliers to drive prices down?

    Then theres the criminal element wanting to make as much money as possible since they know that the meat they supply wont be tested because that costs the supermarkets money

    And finally the consumer,wanting something cheap they can throw in the microwave

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    If local councils are to blame for this as Malcolm Walker claims why did his company feel the need to withdraw products from its shelves? Does Iceland get its food from local council suppliers? I believe his view to be over simplistic and misguided.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Supermarkets and Councils used to employ buyers to source the goods, now they buy from suppliers who buy from dealers who buy from agents and the chain is so long nobody can identify the source of the problem. Cut out the middle men, there are too many of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    That map sums it all up for me. Far too complicated. Every extra step is another source for things to go wrong.


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