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 302.

    This man is not in touch with reality. Whatever the price that local authorities pay for beef, they expect beef! Driving down the cost shouldnt mean that suppliers act illegally.

    And can the muppets trying to make a political point please grow up, its getting a bit sad that you try and blame everything on one politcal party - this has been going on for years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 301.

    I think Mr Walker's board should have a quiet word with him- what a ridiculous statement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 300.

    The sound of 'it wasn't me guv' echoes down the supply chain and out across those responsible for food standards and for supplying food. In the meantime the public really can't be sure what they are buying. Ultimately the seller is responsible, but you can't expect every corner shop to pay to have branded products tested. This whole episode shows we need a strong independent testing regime.

  • Comment number 299.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 298.

    It's not the end or the world, but Owen Patterson seems out of his depth.

    Also some people need a sense of humour transplant. I liked Pablo's 275 post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 297.

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

    has he ever actually set foot in an iceland store? They sell cheap nutritionless junk food.
    They sell utter junk, but at least they have the decency to charge an utter pittance for it.
    Sorry mate, you do sell cheap food. but at least it is cheap!

  • rate this

    Comment number 296.

    All meat should be labelled, its origin specified and details given of the methods of slaughter. Oops that makes me a racist. Sorry all. I have ethical views too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    What's wrong with eating horse? The french eat horse and they are better looking and less obese than us (not me personally of course :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 294.

    Wait, there's horesemeat in a load of Iceland products and the Chief Exec blames Local Councils for the recent crisis?

    Please check all the products you buy ready-made. Where you purchase a dessert - such as a gateau or ice-cream, if it says gelatine... you are giving your kids boiled-down hide and bones from God-only-knows-where. Has it been checked for safety? Oh yes, sure.

    Iceland, yum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 293.

    Iceland dont sell economy meat. I really dont get how he can say that, economy meat is their flagship product, their whole chain was built up on it. How else can you sell large family ready meals for £2 and single meals for £1? I thought it was well known that their business was built on economy value food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    I cant believe Milliband is trying to score political points over the horsemeat scandal.

    I would trust Findus more with the contents of it apple crumble than Milliband

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    Is this Malcolm Walker's Gerald Ratner moment?

    "How can you sell this for such a low price? --- because it's total crap."

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    I think this guy's comments are beyond parody. Where to start?

    ...Around 100 years ago, the Co-Op movement was founded as a bulwark to unscrupulous businesses selling adulterated, often dangerous food to the poor. You would've thought that such things belong firmly in ancient history, but apparently not.

    If History tells us anything, it's greedy corporations CANNOT be trusted to self-regulate!

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    Would those responsible for procuring catering contracts be happy to feed themselves or their families on the food manufactured by the companies they award the contracts to? Of course not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    What is so pathetic about this is the moral of this is so obvious and has been years (mad cow, salmonella, foot & mouth), driven by the Con party (everybody knows it's adirty business but if you make a moral stand liek me you will suffer far more than those who just go along with it like bankers). Similar philosophy cont. by Cons on benefits, safety, schooling, health care, social care, etc, etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    Almost a complete "Ratner" moment - we sell crap, it's just that the dumb public don't relaise that it's crap, so why should we tell them.

    Would you buy your food from this man?

  • Comment number 286.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    "Dodgy cutting houses & backstreet manufacturers have been supplying products to the catering industry & a lot of that is bought by local authorities for schools & hospitals - that's where the problem really lies."

    So how did horse get into Tesco, Findus etc 'beef' lasagne? If you're going to talk rubbish, try and make it convincing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    Talk about passing the buck! If you specify beef, then beef is what you should get - not horsemeat, regardless of whether it is a health hazard or not. This is fraud, plain and simple!

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    Did I just read that right?

    Iceland, along with some other retailers have been found to be selling food containing horsemeat. Food that was never listed as containing horsemeat. And somehow this is the fault of local government.

    Are cheaper meals forced upon them?

    Are they made to stock them?

    Do local governments get involved in Iceland's procurement?

    What utter rot. Just like their food.


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