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 722.

    Just read comment 303 under the editor's pick. I would love to shop at a butchers and buy more expensive meat but my wages doesn't allow it. After i've paid out on taxes, transport cost, electric and heating bills, there isn't much left. I take full responsibility of what I eat but totally disagree with the argument that people are just too lazy or don't care about buying cheaper food.

  • rate this

    Comment number 721.

    How can he blame councils or consumers for what is a fraud by supermarkets and suppliers on a grand scale. The supermarkets have a 'see no evil' attitude to food, this has been going on for years. British farmers shouldn't act so pious either they gave animals the dodgy food stuffs that gave rise to the 'Mad Cow ' public health scandal. We should all be compensated by supermarkets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 720.

    As always you get what you pay for. I buy meat from my local butcher and have done for many years now. If you go to supermarkets and look for the lowest price you will get cr*p but if you are short of cash this is what you have to do. Life is not fair and never has been but that is life never the less.

  • rate this

    Comment number 719.

    So the next time his company fails to pay a decent living wage and a employee steals from them he will be so much more tolerant to the said employee because the company wanted cheaper labour

  • rate this

    Comment number 718.

    How many more times will this issue drift away from the fundamental point that if a retailer sells you beef that is what you should get and if that is not the case the retailer is the one responsible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 717.

    As a former caterer who has worked in both the private and public sectors I would say this guy is about right, but I thinkTesco in particular have been cheated for a long time now. I've had several dodgy fresh meat products from them and I stopped buying any of their own branded meat, Cigarettes are adulterated also. It doesn't even say they are tobacco on the packet anymore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 716.

    I think that he is saying that Councils have acted like the retailers in such a way that there are contaminated meat in the foods that they supply - the difference is that the retailers are accountable and the councils are not... this is a fact of life...I think that this is why he has raised it as an issue...

  • rate this

    Comment number 715.

    I think the guy's right, Brits are a cheap food kind of nation. I see them in NYC stuffing $1.99 sandwiches from Subway down their gobs when there are excellent restaurants right next door. Mad Cow meat, horse meat, squirrel meat, I doubt any of it matters to the Brits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 714.

    What a load of old horse! They're even blaming the public sector for horse meat in their processed beef now. Whatever next? Blame local authorities for them ripping off farmers next. The cheeky toads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 713.

    What a staggeringly arrogant position for Iceland to take.No apology for his firm failing to protect customers and a cynical attempt to shift blame to local authorities. Its just not good enough to suggest that you get what you pay for thereby suggesting safety is negotiable. I am an environmental health officer.Trust me uninspected fraudulent meat isn't safe at all.Think abscesses and disease.

  • rate this

    Comment number 712.

    So why are fuel prices not going down then? Don't we all demand cheap power? It's the supermarkets making excessive profits thats driving the rubbish they are selling!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 711.

    Time and time again the government bows to big business and allows 'self regulation'.
    Time and time again big business shows it cares everything about profit and nothing about consumers or morals.

    Newspapers, banks, meat, ..... when will it stop?

  • rate this

    Comment number 710.

    its all very simple. Don't buy meat from supermarkets implicated in this and tell them why you aren't. When sales drop they will get the message.

    Otherwise carry on buying and send the message that you don't care so business as usual

  • rate this

    Comment number 709.

    So this is the calibre of individual we have leading industry? Appalling, barefaced lying and arrogance. Iceland will get slaughtered for this and good job too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 708.

    The problem is either that the inspectors have not been looking as hard in the past for such contamination or the perpetrators thought they could get away with it because of the cut backs in government agencies across the EU. The fact is that there will always be somebody trying to make a fast buck. Cut backs in inspecting authorities lead to this action. Increase taxes and employ more inspectors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 707.

    @697: "Does anyone in the private sector EVER take ANY RESPONSIBILITY for their own actions??"

    No. They only claim responsibility for successes generated by the skills and dedication of staff way below them. When anything goes wrong, the buck always stops much lower. Funny that. It's endemic throughout corporate culture.

    Malcolm Walker is now mincemeat. I'd put him through a blunt bacon slicer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 706.

    Read 2 lines of this article and was infuriated. How come Iceland selling sub-standard meat is not their fault but the fault of Councils? Iceland are the ones that buy from a supplier so it is entirely up to them to make sure they receive what they order. As usual when something goes wrong in the private sector blame the public sector. The blame lies entirely at Iceland's door - stop deflecting...

  • rate this

    Comment number 705.

    Just like the financial crisis, brace yourselves for a complete avoidance of any and all responsibility and accountability and prosecution from businesses, governments, and regulatory bodies.

    The "best" we can expect is the downfall of a few disposable token scape-goats (or scape-horses, or scape-pigs, or scape-whatever's - how would we know what they are anyway?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 704.

    So supermarkets can claim quality, traceability & ethics in their adverts. However if they do not actually do as they claim then it is someone else's fault. Mr Walker, your shop, Iceland, as well as Tescos & the others have a duty to behave in the way you advertise. Don't do business with criminals or people who don't provide you with the correct products. Actually take the time to 'hand select'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 703.

    Did they test for hedgehogs in the boardroom?


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