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 122.

    He stated that there was no horse meat in any supermarket products. He claimed all that was detected was contamination, due to the processing plants using their equipment for horses and then beef.

    So either they are guilty of not cleaning their equipment properly and risking contamination, or Tesco lied when they say they found 60% horse meat in their spag bol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I do not believe anybody from Government, or from the Food agencies they are ALL looking after their positions, it is the ordinary people of this Country who have been CONNED by the Farmers, Suppliers, Supermarkets and the Government who are the Victims of this scandal! I do not think Tories eat value Burgers more likely Venison!

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Hmm big business that is known for the cheapest possible prices blaming councils for driving down the price of meat? Nothing to do with the constant supermarket pricewar that is played out on adverts everyday on our TV screens? Sorry Malcolm you need to take responsibility for YOUR company selling DODGY meat!

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    At the end of the day if people are so worried about it why dont you buy straight from the butchers

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    @102: "I understand this meat is only mislabelled and not in general dangerous."

    How on earth do all the apologists for this scandal know that the food is safe? They had no idea that it contained horse for starters. What else is in there?

    This is not a labelling issue. It is mass market fraud.

    Hopefully there'll be some class action lawsuits against Tesco et al for fraud.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Iceland boss shifting blame away from supermarkets desperately trying to defend his business.

    Who can he blame? Not the general public for obvious business reasons so he blames other consumers in organisations such as councils or hospitals.

    A desperate act from a man who can seeing his business disappearing before his eyes. Iceland the next HMV?

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.


    (of a product) Offering the best value for the money: "an economy pack".

    Thrift - Husbandry - Saving - Frugality - Parsimony - Horse

    'Parsimony' says it all really !

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    Malcolm Walker has zero credibility and even less sympathy for the public. Iceland sells cheap, often tasty, processed food that for many years I lived off. They sell to those who cannot afford premium product. To suggest that Iceland don't squeeze suppliers at every opportunity is insulting.

    I'm willing to bet that Iceland food doesn't adorn his family's table -- they know what goes into it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    The party responsible is the one I purchase from - that's where the contract is formed. Any mis-labelling, "contamination", inclusion of chemicals is a problem that the retailer has - and may be the subject of legal action.

    If the cause was one of their suppliers then it's up to them to pursue them in turn.

    It does NOT absolve the retailer of responsibilty for products they sell for profit. Ever

  • Comment number 113.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    I was appalled by this comment from the FSA - "After 2,501 fresh tests no new products had been identified as containing more than 1% horsemeat, the FSA said."

    More than 1% horse meat?

    Surely that should be 0% horse meat???

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    It is surprising and disappointing that there were no whistleblowers on this one! Perhaps the FSA could institute a report line where people could flag things up for investigation cf Crimewatch?

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Unbelievable hypocrisy from the Iceland boss. The headline on their website says: "More for your money £1 £2 £3".

    If stuff is cheap there is a compromise somewhere; supermarkets are guilty of driving prices down and turning a blind eye and consumers are guilty of buying on price and not thinking about what they are buying. That is why we are where we are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    I assume it must be pure coincidence but major food scandals – salmonella in eggs, BSE and nvCJD, horsemeat masquerading as beef – always seem to erupt when the Tories are in power. Or might it be that Tory ministers spend so much time telling us that businesses are over-regulated and only held back by red tape and bureaucracy that the unscrupulous think they can get away with anything?

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    A bit of horse meat in your burger should be the least of your worries ...... look at the list of ingredients in a burger and I think you should be more concerned about all the 'E' numbers, modified corn starch, and all the rest. Worry about them before a bit of horse.

    I get the feeling that we all want everything as cheap as possible .... and that is what we get. Live with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    If he's disclaiming responsibility for what he's selling - why would you buy from him?

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Retailers not blame?


    Or should that be horsesh*t....?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    come on auntie enough with the horse meat story
    lets have an HYS about ID's remarks on the andrew marr show today regarding benefits ans stopping migrants from claiming them

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    As horse meat is both cheaper and healthier than beef, and given the fact that once it is processed in lasagne and the like it apparently tastes the same, wouldn't it make sense for schools and hospitals to use it anyway?

    Also, has anyone come out with a home use horse DNA testing kit yet as their must be some money to be made from this overblown panic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Sorry, the upper markets are legally responsible, under trading standards legislation. They have broken the law, period.

    Their QA processes have been shown to be fundamentally suspect, and who knows for how long - months, years, decades ?


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