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

More on This Story

Horsemeat scandal

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • Comment number 82.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Who ever is to blame this needs to be sorted as a top priority. Already struggling shops and resturants are already struggling !

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Not just councils to blame

    Supermarkets are as well, driving the price down to provide cheap food for sale, squeezing every last !/2p out of the producer, so it got to the stage where cheap "so called" beef will be grabbed and used

    OLD SAYING " you pay for what you get" cheap meals cheap meat

  • Comment number 79.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Utter tosh.
    This scandal is simply the result of people selling cheap food even cheaper and allowing contamination of the product because they don't care about quality.
    For the boss of Iceland, whose products are generally of the cheap and processed variety, to start apportioning blame is a bit rich.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Retailers were selling meat products which did not contain meat of the quality, or indeed from the species, claimed on the package. They sourced, advertised, displayed and sold these products and yet blame someone else. Pathetic. Top executives are supposed to be payed eye-watering salaries because they take risks and carry the can for the organisation. Their pay is like their products, a scam!

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    He added: "...we know where all our food comes from, we follow the supply chain right the way through and its very short"

    "Dodgy cutting houses and backstreet manufacturers have been supplying products"

    Well - seems simple - either you DO know your supply chain and you're using "Dodgy cutting houses" or you are not.

    If 1 then you're to blame, if 2 then that's not the cause of the problem!


  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Pizzas are to blame for driving down the cost of ready meals. A bit of bread, tomato paste & 'cheese' of dubious origin, with a sprinkle of something else. A coronary waiting to happen, but it fills you and people can kid themselves that they've had a square meal. No wonder they can be churned out at no cost & maximum profit. The main cause of obesity in the benefit classes struggling to exist

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    The blame for this horsemeat scandal firstly starts with the EU. Tony Blair gave away our rights so that they EU now control food standards across the EU. But their controls are based on a box ticking exercise where suppliers tell us it is beef, no one checks in the EU. The reason this is not coming out in the UK is that Mr Cameron does not want the Eurosceptic Tories to climb on his back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Everyone is to blame! Our own greed led to this.

    It's not just the food industry, but look at how much schools are ripped off, having to pay £5000 for a £400 PC.
    How suddenly when a contractor here's it's a "council job" quotes increase 5 fold!
    Suing them for tripping over a crack in the pavement. etc etc

    We got what we deserved. What were you people expecting?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Doesn't giving all the evidence to Europol just highlight the problem with this horsemeat problem?

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Blame the councils! Typical claptrap. Local authorities did not specify horsemeat when tendering contracts so if this is supplied by the winning contractor ( the company that said it would deliver to the agreed spec at the agreed price), its plain fraud. There should and must be prosecutions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Councils are partly to blame yes,but the big stores such as tesco are also guilty.They push producers into unsafe practices.They demand lower prices and threaten to cancel orders if not given.Tesco in their quest for ever increasing profits have in my opinion lowered their quality,but increased their prices.I have just been to buy a ready meal £3.50 for a chicken curry,same price as marks?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    So the boss at Iceland want to blame his customers ! What utter tosh. He and his company are responsible for managing their suppliers and making sure they get what they have contracted to buy. If he contraced to buy beef and got horse that is not the fault of his customers (either business or houshold consumer). Mr Walker needs to take resposibility and ownership of HIS problems !

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Cost is often the first consideration with regard to food, then taste, then appearance and finally the nutritional value. Until this list turned upside down little if any advancement will be made by retailers or institutions alike who are on financial endeavour not a nutritional one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Not a very helpful response from Mr Walker. I believe that the public, rather than looking for someone to blame or someone to kick the blame around, simply want an assurance that they actually going to get what they pay for. Confidence will return only when we see that the retailers have effective quality assurance in place. Clearly the evidence is many large retailers do not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Bit of a joke coming from a guy whose company Iceland sell some of the most loaded food in the business. With levels of salt and saturated fats & artificial sweeteners that are truly off the map I would never buy their rubbish. What is needed is legislation backed by a fully funded and completely independent regulator that has its own scientists and does its own studies not food industry paid for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    yes because councils have the buying power of supermarkets. its milk prices all over again, all the large supermarket chains are demanding to pay less rather than pay the set price, and if you dont drop your price your off there books next time they come to order. the supermarkets are now on par with opec at setting prices for everyone to play by.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I bet the veggies are loving this :-)....fiver says we have a chicken sortage next off the back of this red meat fiasco

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I placed an order with Asda for home delivery last night and although I had ordered a pack of beef mince at £2 - I changed it for their best quality Scottish one. Yes, it cost twice as much, but I for one, am just not prepared to take the chance any more.


Page 59 of 63


More UK stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.