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 322.

    I don't think the councils can have much influence on the supply chain, on the other hand it's common knowledge that supermarkets constantly bully suppliers for so called 'efficiencies', to the point someone is pushed to break the rules in some way. Cutting red-tape does stimulate business, but it also stimulates business corruption. It is funny however how Mr Walker won't buy his own value range.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    I think Pickles should step up to the plate, he's a natural - at least we know we'll get good old fashioned bull from him

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    It's not eating horse that's the root problem.It's the fact that people have been lied to and if horse is being passed off as beef then god knows what else isn't what it says it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    I guess Iain Duncan-Smith will blame the whole episode on shelf stackers who think they're too good for the role.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    Ironic that these crooks might have done us a favour by exposing inherent complacency & failings throughout the industry. The scammers will have known these failings from the start & no doubt there have been many backhanders involved on route. The biggest scam now will be who can lie the most convincingly & at what level? The fault, deliberate or otherwise covers a lot of ground.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    "Iceland chief executive Malcolm Walker says he would not eat "value" branded meat from supermarkets."

    But you are quite happy for your supermarket to stock and sell this stuff to the great unwashed though then?

    The hypocrisy of this man is only matched by his stupidity.
    Look out for his job being advertised very soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    What complete nonsense this is. Councils do not choose to supply illegally described meat; such choices are made by others fraudulently and intending recklessly to deceive consumers and councils alike. Responsibility lies only with those who make such choices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    what utter crap as if what councils buy effects what retailers offer for sale to customers. Its retailers demanding ever greater profit margins that have drove this con. Its just typical capitalism profits before customers and give as little as possible for as long as possible and charge as much as possible

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    I am in no doubt about politicians, especially Con ones, culpability in this. Pay special attention to the way they are prepared to LIE to get their own way (like not telling the geology student working in Poundland wasn't compulsory) and you will ses that the dishonesty in this mimics the dishonesty in the Con party. This is th ekind of morality they are trying to force upon EVERYONE but theirs.

  • Comment number 313.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    Schools & hospitals expect to pay less than £3.00 for a wholesome 2 course meal

    Can anybody provide real food for that price and make a profit?

    By real I mean an end product where ALL ingredients are real

    Real meat, real milk, real eggs - not aggregated slurry sourced from hundreds of providers from 10 or more countries then moved from one place to another until a food broker secures a deal

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    The BBC are not fooling the smart readers. They run a non-story of a random chief exec of a chav food company blaming councils, so that the HYSers can spout their left-wing drivel and blame the gov. You must think we were born yesterday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    Why are there are so many in the food chain, just so open to abuse. Wonder what the carbon footprint is for processed food? There are more scandals in the private sector than the public sector because the temptation to make money on the backs of the poor consumer are so great. The arrogance of this man is quite jaw dropping. Support your local producers and show the big boys who really is boss

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    Oh dear. I sense a Gerald Ratner moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    The strange thing is that horsemeat is not particuliarlycheap .What serves noone is to have a witch hunt this usually ends up will all the world covering their own tail .We have a breakdown in the supply chain and inevitably this means wrong doing at some stage . The meat is obviously horse when seen at the cutting stage but if processed and packed not so .When cooking it gives off a unique smell

  • Comment number 307.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    295:- There is nothing wrong with eating horse. Its the fact its in food, unmonitored, unscreened, basically nobody actually knows where it has come from and it exposes a soft underbelly of poor monitoring and, basically, fraud. And it is the collective fault of everyone because the insatiable pressure for ever cheaper food has caused processors to cut corners to improve wafer thin margins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    Can't be bothered to get angry about this. Doesn't change anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 304.

    Councils and hospitals and the public sector generally, are having their budgets slashed. So is it any surprise that they are looking for cheap deals? Once upon a time, the UK had a very efficient system of food hygiene. The last I heard, our food is being tested in Germany. IMO, the Common Market is reducing everything to the lowest Common denominator - and the end is nowhere in sight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 303.

    At the end of the day, it is the consumers who are to blame. You all know what beef and chicken cost, yet you are quite happy to walk away from a supermarket or fast food joint with some processed off-cuts which is priced to sell. We've been here with chicken, most people don't care. Don't claim poverty drives you to it - if you haven't paid for quality meat, buy something else good instead.


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