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 642.

    Classic case of slopey shoulders! Man up and take responsibility for goodness sake!

  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    So if I was to pay for the 'products' sold by Iceland with monopoly money instead of real money, and blame the Parker Brothers, I take it that Mr Malcolm Walker would find this acceptable?

    With a such a thoughtless chap in charge it seems unsurprising that such a scandal could happen.

    Ahem Mr Walker - it is your job to know what in the food you pass on!

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

    So Supermarket with no buyer power supplies councils extra cheap.

    Why do councils need extra cheap? Because Central Government says they need to make huge cuts.

    Why does Central Govt demand huge cuts? Because they refuse to enforce proper taxation standards and huge amounts of legalised robbery is taking place with transfer pricing nonsense, intra-company loan nonsense etc etc.

    Rip off Britain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    He mentions products containing horse flesh not going into the supermarkets.

    What exactly is going into the products that contained 100% horse meat or even 60% horse meat then.

    It's obviously not minute amounts of contamination as he suggests.

    The guy's an idiot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 638.

    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 637.

    624.Paul Barrett-Brown
    Just wait until some terrorist exploits the weaknesses in our pathetic monitoring of foodstuffs to introduce Anthrax contaminated meat (pork, perhaps) into our food chain - the thought is enough to turn me into a vegetarian!"

    It'd be a hell of a lot easier to contaminate veg - easier access and there's no traceability at all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.

    Is it true, that when Iceland has a sale, they pay you to shop there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 635.

    People are forced to work longer so cannot always prepare fresh food, that is rubbish I work in the NHS, so like many in the services I work a 24/7 shift pattern, I have a wife she is a police officer so also works a 24/7 pattern, we also have kids, yet cook good fresh food no excuses, so why on earth would people buy, overpriced unhealthy ready meals in the first place that has caused this mess?

  • rate this

    Comment number 634.

    This is a much bigger problem than suggested.

    I should imagine that some people are eating cats & dogs in their takeaways. Years ago in Stevenage a Chinese takaway was prosecuted for using cats/dogs & got caught with a freezer full of them.

    So many takaways have bright colour dyes, orange, yellow, red, that is NOT how the food is supposed to be, so WHATS being hidden you should ask!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    The idea that any public sector organisation was capable of buying at the cheapest price is ludicrous. They neither care nor have the staff capable of negotiating a good price; indeed knowing that the punter is footing the bill, they couldn't care less. The retailers are ultimately to blame, however they represent themselves, and the suppliers found guilty of misdemeanour should go to jail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    It's always someone else's fault isn't it?
    Iceland (and others) were the ones who actually sold horse as beef and they need to take some responsibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    The Local Government Association is denying responsibility even though dobbin has ended up in school meals for at least one local authority. At the same time retailers are at fault because they are part of the food chain. A whiff of double standards there I think - but the LGA represent politicians in the end so what do we expect?

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    A laughable response from a guy who clearly has no regard for his customers. If you buy beef you should get beef (albeit if you pay 99p for a pack of burgers don't expect much more than mechanically recovered meat). As far as people being on a budget our butcher gives away liver & kidney because he can't sell them; read into that what you will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    The latest food scandal (after the NHS, trains, energy prices etc) is another case where it's someone else's fault but not your own. No one takes responsibility.

    In this instance a good first step would be where those who sign up the catering contracts for schools and hospitals are required to eat that food. Walking the walk rather than just talking it concentrates the mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    As consumers we don't want blame, we just want honesty. We trusted the system and it has let is down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    A Gerald Ratner moment from another CEO of a high street retailer. If it's labelled as beef and you buy it,then it should contain beef not horse meat. What are their buyers doing? Probably sitting ion their backsides and buying from a a spreadsheet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    As far as I'm concerned this is down to the government, local authorities, the FSA, supermarkets, suppliers and slaughter houses etc. Obviously none of these Depts / people can be trusted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    @528: "I would take the word of a businessman; who actually knows what he is talking about"

    Someone like Malcolm Walker?

    As others have said - the blame lies entirely with Tesco, Iceland et al for not auditing their supply chain either through incompetence or more likely a deliberate policy of "we don't ask, so you don't tell us".

    It's fraud. Someone should start a class action.

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    Just wait until some terrorist exploits the weaknesses in our pathetic monitoring of foodstuffs to introduce Anthrax contaminated meat (pork, perhaps) into our food chain - the thought is enough to turn me into a vegetarian!

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    >583. Stephen of Woking
    >Ministers must do the job we have elected them to do.

    >602. Chorley Lass
    >Govt must accept responsibility

    Pigs must fly!


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