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 1222.

    767. ScottNYC

    Actually I am in a position to criticize. I've eaten English food and it's appalling.


    ScottyNYC, let's clarify three things:

    - We are not discussing cuisine but, rather, the right not to be told lies. - British people, just much as any other people, have this right.
    - You are fully entitled to dislike something. You are *not* entitled to say it is appalling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1221.

    Is this the same Malcolm Walker who sold millions of pounds worth of shares but a few weeks before a profits warning and then claimed that he knew nothing about it?

    Is this the same Malcolm Walker who heads a company that sold horse meat in burgers? "We know where our food comes from"....yea Aintree

  • rate this

    Comment number 1220.

    The problem, like everything else, can be traced back to capitalism. The market dictates that using horse meat as a replacement for other red meat is a sound investment as it will maximise profits and give your product an unfair advantage in the market, because you'll be able to lower your price compared to your competitors, until of course they cotton on and start doing the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1219.

    Well done Mr Ratner you just made YOUR company !! oops no welcome to the unemplyed

  • rate this

    Comment number 1218.

    It all comes down to 3 things




  • rate this

    Comment number 1217.

    the iceland boss has got it completely right. the tories in the guise of all competition is healthy force councils to take the lowest tender for food products. we are now paying the real price for this folly . some competition is very unhealthy. how can hospitals serve patients good food on a budget of £2 per day per person ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1216.

    David Arnold
    The buying public are not daft. they know that Supermarkets push suppliers to cut costs. Look at the milk market farmers going out of business daily because the big boys dictate the price. I have always told people to buy meat from your local butcher this proves my point supermarkets don't care what they supply as long as you buy it from them. From now on support your local butcher

  • rate this

    Comment number 1215.

    As a Waitrose regular I am surprised that meatballs were withdrawn because they had pork in them. My memory suggests that pork is meat!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1214.

    The blame game is stupid. Also unproductive since we know the Government was warned about this in 2011 so there will be a whitewash.
    The problem that councils are culpable in fostering is the use of large corporations rather than local companies to provide the meals service. Once company recently caught up in this dogs dinner of an affair ran over 7000 sites in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1213.

    Is this the "I was only satisfying orders" defence? It's clearly the responsibility of suppliers to meet food standards and all he is doing is creating a smokescreen to avoid blame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1212.

    Malcolm Walker must resign !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1211.

    Even if the local authorities are somewhat to blame that does not excuse Iceland. They must be buying from the same dodgy suppliers that the LA's are getting it from. Iceland and all other retailers should be checking all their bought in meats separately from the authorities. The public has a right to know that. The FSA need to get their act together otherwise what are they there for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1210.

    At the end of the day you get what u pay for, but it is the rise of supermarkets that have meants people will buy the cheapest food and the rise of takeaways and ready meals as well as people having less and less time to cook their own food so in a way employment is to blame. But supermarkets forced out butchers and grocers which mesnt less local produce and expertise

  • rate this

    Comment number 1209.

    @1187. McNuggetts

    Local councils are clients of the food industry - they rightly want value for money.

    They may want that but actually they always choose the cheapest.

    Recall the words of John Ruskin:
    “There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1208.

    End of my visits to Iceland.

    I've always aadmired them for refusing to sell GM produce but now he's done a Gearld Ratner.

    I'm off - I can show my contempt too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1207.

    AlIt all smack of 'little England'.

    Last time I was in Switzerland, Co-op restaurants had horse steaks on the weekly menu. Being British I'm not keen but lots of people love it. Not least my former boss who is German and ensures that he gets his fix of horse when he visits his daughter in Zurich.

    Swedish meat balls in Ikea are mixed pork and beef and and are excellent.

    Just think France.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1206.

    There's a globally growing population with less wealth, a larger social divide and less cash to spend on food. Millions are starving yet all of these "standards agencies" created by governments have justified their existence by creating panic throughout Europe for what is a simply different meat being sold. Nobody has died as a result but all that waste could have fed the hungry. Shame on you all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1205.

    A horse! A horse! A burger for my horse!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1204.

    Malcolm Walker's analysis is incredible. Does he really think we are willing to hear excuses for lies (yes, lies) full board on the packages in his shops?

    I am born in Italy, I eat horse meat, and I like it. But I want to know when I buy it. If I read beef, beef it must be. Anything else is a lie, and blaming it on councils, on the EU, on the Pope or on the weather is disgusting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1203.

    For most people who arent disabled preparing fresh food is not impoosible and there is no excuse to live off ready meals. My parents worked full time in factories in the 50s and still home cooked. If people are too busy then employment etc should change and people priorities. For the disabled where is community centres cooking fresh food. Too many rakeaways, ready meals lack of exercise etc


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