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 282.

    the boss of iceland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    Until there's a fully INDEPENDANT enquiry, if there ever is one, I'm not going to trust ANYONE involved in this, full stop! That includes government, local authority & supermarket bosses. Even after a full enquiry any trust of them from me will be very sceptical if there's ever any at all! What was it that the former head of the FSA said, he warned ministers about this 2 years ago & was ignored!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    Think that is passing the buck did councils put it on supermarket shelves

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    As someone who had the misfortune of having to supply the large UK retailers with product made in China in the past, I know exactly who is to blame for this serious issue..... the retailers and their pursuit of ridiculously high margins /profits. Why do our food retailers some with billion pound profits have to use third party processed meat in their own label products? ... POWER & PROFITS

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    To say that anyone other than those responsible for the supply of the product is to blame is rubbish. To brand a product something which it is not, knowingly then sell it under the terms of that fundamental lie is simply criminal, whether the end result is harmful or not. Those that knowingly do this should be held PERSONALLY accountable and at least have very big personal fines imposed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    British supermarkets have NOT got a fantastic reputation for food safety, they DO go to enormous lengths to protect their brand. HENCE Malcolm Walker's deluded defence of his business.

    Private and public leadership is at a point of delusion as to their importance, practice and relevance of their attitudes to making money. This scandal is unfortunate complacency. Walker is laughable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    Oh dear Iceland!! But must give you an award for how to lose customers rapidly. WELL DONE!

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.


  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    Pathetic. Another retailer trying to abdicate responsibility. "I wouldn't eat value meals" said Iceland boss. No, but your happy to sell them mate. Guilty of selling food with false label = Jail.
    Suppliers guilty of supplying food with false documentation = Jail
    Amazing how this scandal is nobodies fault.
    Self killing and processing horses? Blind butchers?
    That's what it comes down to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    212. (Me!)
    1 Minute ago

    185. mattmatt81
    "Why else would the BBC put this story ahead of
    Healthcare scandal ....
    BBC - labours propoganda machine ."

    Are they? I thought the current lead was the Tory Migrant=Criminal scare.

    Sorry, I did not intend to say Tory Migrants were Criminals!

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    If companies lie to the consumer about the content of cheap products how do you know that they are not lying about expensive products where there is even more profit to be made

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    Wow, loads of sloping shoulders ;)

    Thinking about the legality of this...

    If I sell you a Rolex that is not a Rolex it is fraud, so by the same token if I sell you beef that is horse it is also fraud.

    Fraud has nothing to do with what you want to pay for the goods, only the actions and attitude of the supplier.

    So when the the incarcerations begin?

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    re Iceland Boss- "Iceland has never sold economy products-we do not sell cheap food, "ICELAND CURRENT WEBSITE
    500 gms Minced Beef Hotpot £1-, Shepherds Pie £1-, Sweet&Sour Chicken&Rice £1-, Spaghetti Bolognase £1-, Lasagne £1-, Corned Beef Hash £1-, Beef Stew&Dumplings £1, Beef Curry&Rice £1, Cheesy Beans& Sausages £1-, Cottage Pie £1,
    the 500 gms list goes on and on- ALL £1-

  • Comment number 269.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    Just another case of trying to blame the victim for the crime. Maybe there would be no burglaries if people didn't amass any wealth. It seems to me that the boss of Iceland knew about the fraud of passing horse as beef but is blaming the victims for allowing it to happen. Can I go to Iceland and try and pass £10 notes off as £50 notes and blame him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    Ah, so the blame game has started has it? I wonder how much money I can make out of this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    Can someone tie all the thresds together. Ready meals, no proper cooking, teaching our children how to cook, general health etc. It may be the largest manufacturing sector in the UK but maybe we should all work to shut it sown and get on with cooking real food ffrom basic ingredients. Bring back the the local butcher, baker.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    This bloke talking rubbish the councils don't supply supermarkets with beefburgers or any other meat products,the blame lies at the government,retailers,supplies door & last 2 it to with greed food gone up again in last month or so,supermarkets are using Smith slave labour programmes so saving millions & pushing up profits yet can't be bothered to check food their selling us

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    All we have had, and all we are getting for many years now is cheap. cheap, cheap and other parties like Labour, Libdems, and greens have been vilified if they did anything other than the cheapest of the cheap. There is no doubt of Con culpability. They are even doing it no to benefits claimant making them homeless, but the Cons never accept responsibility. haven't you noticed? I'm veggie...

  • Comment number 263.

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


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