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 182.

    Let's be honest, nobody wants to pay taxes but everybody wants more from the government. Something has to give.

    The problem is that after the last government the share of taxes going on public sector pay & pensions has increased leaving less for everything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    The Iceland boss is clearly trying to shift the blame. Councils will try to get supplies at the lowest price as indeed Iceland will, They could have just bid a reasonable price but..... of course they were after the profit. Lets have more honesty and less buck passing, Icelnds quality control is at fault as indeed the councils is!

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    As at least 1 other has commented - this is a non story in the wider context. Many folk are poor (at least relatively). They need FOOD. They buy what they can afford. As we move inexorably from global capitalism to feudal capitalism (1% of the population owning 90% of world "wealth"), poor quality food will be the least of our worries.If those in care etc are to eat, it won't be farm shop!

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    What else do they test for in our ready meals and 'processed meats'

    The next time the government announces a drop in the prison population I for one hope they will be testing for human DNA...

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    We have two FSA's, both have let the public down badly, what is going to be done about it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    And I suppose the councils are also to blame for the miss labelling? Talk about shifting blame. Supermarkets should KNOW what is in the packaging. Not rely on councils to tell them after the product has been made and sold. Sorry but this doesn't wash at all. Price is irrelevant. If you can't produce something below a certain price, you increase the price. Not hold the price by substitution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Never seen so much finger-pointing. "Not my fault, it's his fault. I'm innocent"

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    It is blatantly obvious to me that Malcolm Walker and the CEO's of all the supermarkets have not done their due diligence (because it costs money!)... and are now deflecting the blame to others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Unless you have reared, slaughtered, processed and then cooked the animal yourself you have absolutely no way of knowing what meat you are eating.

    If in doubt turn vegetarian but we wary of genetic modification.

    Scary isn't it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.


    In some ways it does, though more by what the packs don't tell you.

    If the contents are red tractor or in some other way farm/quality assurred and so capable of being tracked then the pack will have the appropriate logo/statement, if it doesn't have it then the contents are not subject to full chain audit and so might well be something other than what they seems to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Unfair competition laws should apply equally to big businesses that sell things and big government departments that buys things. It is harmful for any dominant organisation to control prices. If they do, it is the public that suffers, because the quality of traded products falls. Trade needs to be conducted in a competitive marketplace, with multiple sellers and multiple buyers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    I thought we had unambigous laws in place to protect consumers from fraud. Inserting low cost meats in place of higher cost beef is a fraud. Every supermarket "caught red handed" should be up before the Magistrate! They must have known, simply because of the price they would have been paying. The crooks would've knocked a penny or two off in order to win the contract. Pretending innocence is wrong

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    what nonsense. providing the product meets the stated standard i don't want to pay more than necessary. as an example if 2 butchers sell a 1kg fillet steak from the same cow in the same packaging and handled the same but 1 is cheaper than the other, i want the cheaper one. if however the cheaper steak is actually horse and i'm being conned, i'll never shop there again no matter how cheap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Mr Walker is not wrong in his words but his target is somewhat narrow. Food sales are a race to the bottom. Processed food is cheap because it contains a plethora of legal but low grade ingredients, without colourings and flavourings it would be a grey tasteless mush. Nutritionally the effects are quantified by the ever burgeoning workload placed upon the NHS. Everything has a cost.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Malcolm Walker is talking like a thicko.

    His industry fed me dog food, despite me CHOOSING otherwise.

    There's no law forbidding horse meat - so why did his industry not put a horse meat lasagne next to a beef lasagne and let the customer decide?

    If he feels he's a victim of fraud then show me the evidence that he, and his industry has not at any time forced his suppliers to lower their prices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Whats really to blame is the middle class of the UK "sold out" to the transatlantic capitalist ideal of relentless pursuit of profit above all else...

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    That's why mums have stopped going to Iceland !

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    The chief exec' of a supermarket says, "It's not the supermarket's fault" is no surprise really.
    I do think that the public's demand for 'cheaper' food has some merit, however, if they DO want 'cheaper' food, they should go to the butchers/green grocer/bakery for their food. Since all this kicked off, I have boycotted the supermarkets and am surprised how cheaper it is to shop locally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    The blame is entirely the food industry who have their own examiners, its certainly not the Government. I have no problem with horse meat its sold by French the supermarkets there. The problem to me nothing was labelled as horsemeat, also need to know it came from a reputable supplier. I havent had it but I gather it tastes like meat not like ours here due to fat taken off/slaughtered too young.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    I presume Mr Walker can demonstrate that councils have told their suppliers: "Don't worry what's in it, just give us the cheapest." Otherwise he's just talking out of his backside. Anyway, this isn't mainly about supplying councils and hospitals - it's about what's in the meat products on the shelves of Iceland and other supermarkets. Is this Mr Walker's Gerald Ratner moment?


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