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 1242.

    I'm not sure what his Beef is (ROFL!).......... I cook most of our meals at home, from scratch........... and, on reflection, over half the meal content tends to be vegetable!........... Balance in diet is essential, so I tend to make sure that is applied to the menu......... If I can use vegetable protein sources in those recipes, then so much the better!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1241.

    Neigh, neigh and thrice neigh

  • rate this

    Comment number 1240.

    A lot of people have claimed that they cannot afford to use their local butcher hence purchase these economy meals.What they mean is they cannot cook!It's not as if much meat is used in them anyway.Use cheap cuts, batch cook and put portions in freezer.Meat content does have to be high to be nutritious and you know what's in it.That will show the supermarkets not to treat us as fools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1239.

    @ 1237. toorie: It's very simple: I work long hours, I make a lot of money, I earn good money. On my way home, I want to be able to pop into a supermarket, buy food without having to worry what's in it, go home, have decent meal, go to bed and get up the next day to do the same thing. I do my job, I go the extra mile, now the least I can expect is that other service providers do the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1238.

    As usual when a scandal breaks it's always someone else's fault. Whatever happened to "The buck stops here?"

    What about sorting this mess out properly before blame is apportioned? There's plenty of time to point fingers after potentially contaminated meat- the real problem here- is permanently removed from the food supply.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1237.

    Now stop complaining! You can easily buy an electric or a hand crank mincer on E-bay for around £6.00 to £30+ ( Mincers used to be a common sight in any kitchen years ago). This means when you make your own burgers and sausages YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT GOES INTO THEM.......simple! No neigh,bray, meiouw or woof-woof!
    Now stop complaining!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1236.

    I don't want to sound like an apologist for the rogue meat precessing firms and clearly consumers are entitled to know what they are eating, but if we weren't so hung up about eating horses it is unlikely this would have happened. Horsemeat is healthier, more nutritious and tastier than beef and also cheaper. I'm sure that if it was sold in this country it would gallop off the shelves!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1235.

    There is a saying.
    "Point a finger, and you'll find three pointed back at you"

    Think on that Mr Walker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1234.

    It's simple - I am not purchasing meat ever again from supermarkets - they are not to be trusted. I will eat meat rarely and it must be local/free range/organic. I will not eat processed food anymore but will make my own from scratch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1233.


    Doesn't matter in the slightest about how cheap or expensive the meat is. It's the fact of the matter than people expect to know exactly what is IN the product they are buying. That is down to the supermarkets who have their own brand, and the companies that own other brands of food. Nothing to do with cheap or not, but the expectation to be told accurately what the ingredients are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1232.

    It's probably the same Malcolm Walker who let his company try to help prosecute two people for a crime that was never committed. I know. I am one of them. The judge threw the case out at half time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1231.

    As the government were warned of this 2 years ago by the former head of the FSA but decided to ignore it & let it carry on then the blame for the continuation of this scam falls squarely at their feet & no matter how much they squirm they can't deny that because it is a fact! It's just one more of the many things wrong that proves that collectively they couldn't run a bath let alone a country!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1230.

    The catering services for the schools and hospitals was privatised years ago, how can the councils be to blame ?.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1229.

    The reality is that this has obviously been going on a very long time and some people have become very rich through it, only now have we found out. Now that we know there is little real knowledge of what we are eating in processed foods, I wonder what they will find next? These horses were probably destined for cat food. We need to avoid sausages , burgers and minced meat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1228.

    Unbelievable-I watched this and had to leave the room this morning as made me so angry-Is this the type of person leading companies in the UK? Yes price is the Driver but just local authorities and all food business have to take responsibility.He was like a 5 year old blaming a big boy for taking his ball.Either he is truly dreadful or his team hate him & fed him duff information. Gerald Ratner?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1227.

    LAs are at fault for most things in this country. They perform badly at everything

  • rate this

    Comment number 1226.

    We live in a world of spin, lies and greed. Getting away with what you can has become business as usual for many corporations. Some get caught; others have not yet been caught. How often is processed turkey and chicken contaminated in the supply chain and would you know the difference? Does it really matter to our bodies or is our pride more hurt having been caught out? Ask yourselves...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1225.

    As Mr. Royce said earlier, this is the collective fault of everyone who wants to buy cheap meat and doesn't bother to think about how much it really costs to raise animals and kill them. Our indifference and desire only to satisfy our appetites is leading to animals being treated like machines. But sentient beings feel stress, which goes into your meat. Raise animals properly and pay a bit more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1224.

    This government is totally of hand, they knew about this a couple of years ago and doing their best to pass the puck - it is clearly not the supermarkets fault but the manufactures.

    What is more arrogant what was the FSA and DEFRA , yes DEFRA Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs!

    Our ministers love sitting on their backsides while claiming lavish expenses - get a grip Cameron!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1223.

    And who supplies the schools and hospitals? It wouldn't be big business would it?


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