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 362.

    If we want cheap meat and horse meat is cheaper, how about just being honest and labeling it as horse meat as well as country of origin. The public can then take their choice. It's all about honesty. On mainland Europe consumption of horse meat it not unusual. As long as horses for the food chain are note administered Bute by Vets, there shouldn't be a problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    The trouble with us in the UK is too,many people want cheap food and that comes at a price. Look at the BSE crisis when cows were being fed with meat by products. Cows are herbivores not carnivores.We then all complain and now we expect to have good meat in cheap burgers etc.Well guess what? You can't and won't.You get what you pay for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    good grief heard it all now.nothing to do with me guv.greed,greed ,greed from top to bottom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    The media talk all the time about meat products bought from supermarkets etc.They totally ignore the fact that probably half the population eat meals from takeaways or restaurants
    most of which are ethnic.
    Where do these places get their meat from,and why arent they forced to name the percentages of fat and salt etc in their meals --like MacDonald and Burger King?
    The situation is totally absurd

  • Comment number 358.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    3 Minutes ago

    "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?

    If you'd listened carefully to his interview on Radio 4 (you know the one were people talk) you'd realise his branding is in the middle range not white box

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    Most english local councils are run by Labour and most local councils prefer cheap food and give licence for fast food restaurant away rather then supporting local farmers and local products. Yes I do blame Labour !

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    Just another example of Rip Off Britain. I'm disgusted, once again, at this whole fiasco and I wish all these highly paid officials in government and the FSA stop going on about this not being a health issue completely missing the point. This is a result of plain and simple GREED and heads need to role. Why do we Brits just keep taking it lying down?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    I feel truly fortunate that I don't have to shop at Iceland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    They should ALL be made accountable! They are ALL to blame! The Government, the EU, the retailers/supermarkets, the suppliers and the abattoirs! Fine them millions of pounds! The money can be spent on employing more FSA specialists into testing our meat! Heads should roll on this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    Weird - its almost as if the same thing that goes into their food also comes out of his mouth - a total and utter load of b0110cks.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    Schhol meals are a joke.
    When my children have them, they come home needing to be fed the instant they step foot in the house.
    The food is not enough and I believe, contains far too much carbohydrate.
    It's not just the meat quality that needs sorting out, it's the meals as a whole.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    I cant remember how many times I have said that - ALL your rights, ALL of them + benefits & entitlements & even state pensions are ONLY valid if there is the money to maintain & police them & pay for them & there is NOT

    Its about time people got off their backsides & reduced reliance on everyone else for so much

    If you buy low cost pre-prepared meals, then expect, basically, RUBBISH

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    but you forget they are forced by tories (government|) to buy the cheapest. Then when it goes bad typical capitalist tories blame anyone and everyone but their greed and selfishness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    EVERY retailer caught up in this issue should be ashamed that they have committed fraud against their customers. However, EVERY retailer without fail will blame their supply chain over which THEY the retailer should have had better control. It all comes down to the amount of profits the retailers want to make at ANY cost to you and I.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    The lostdot. Is there a point to your comment, other than to spout Leftie rhetoric? You need to comment on the subject in hand, not your political affiliations you clown.

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    Mr Walker should be sent to jail ... plain and simple!

    Is anyone really stupid enough to fall for this 'misdirection'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    The Con party has been pushing the cheap and nasty minimum cost philosophy for everybody else but not theirs. This kind of stuff is normal when they're in power like mad cow, salmonella and foot and mouth, and if you can't see the connection you are really a bit dim.

    Notably it's never been cheapest possible for them and theirs while they are doing thisto everybody else. Private schools,hospitals

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    Supermarkets continually emphasise the quality of their goods & their ability to sell those quality goods at extremely low prices. It is the supermarkets who are creating the belief amongst consumers that quality food can be purchased from them at "unbelievably" (to quote one supermarket chain) low prices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    Govts/MPs don't want to take responsibility for their wrong doings

    Bankers don't want to take responsibility for theirs

    Police Officers don't want to take responsibility for theirs

    Private health care companies don't want to take responsibility for theirs

    yet a lad from a poor background gets sent to prison for stealing one small bottle of water during the riots.....


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