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Councils ‘not to blame for horsemeat hamburgers’

By Vivienne Russell | 18 February 2013

Councils have hit back at suggestions that cheap public sector catering contracts are responsible for the decline in food standards that has contributed to the horsemeat scandal.

Malcolm Walker, boss of frozen food retailer Iceland, said at the weekend that cheap catering contracts for schools and hospitals were where the ‘problem really lies’.

‘If we’re going to blame somebody, let’s start with local authorities,’ Walker told the BBC.

‘There’s a whole invisible side to the [catering] industry. Schools, hospitals, it’s massive business for cheap food. Local authorities award contracts based purely on one thing: price... It’s local authorities who are driving [food quality] down.’

But Local Government Association chair Sir Merrick Cockell said it was ‘rather silly’ to claim that price was connected to quality.

‘If you’re working to a budget, whether it’s a hamburger from Iceland or a catering contract, you’re looking for value for money but you’re also looking, with a proper expectation, that whatever you buy is what it claims to be,’ he said.

An LGA spokesman added that the law was 100% clear that manufacturers, suppliers and retailers were responsible for ensuring that the products they sold were what they were claimed to be.

He said: ‘There has been a major supply chain failure. That’s not the fault of consumers, councils or hospitals. The companies that supply our food need to take responsibility and focus on getting their house in order.’

Traces of horse DNA have been found in a range of processed beef products, sparking widespread unease about food quality in the UK. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is meeting major retailers today to discuss what can be done to improve consumer confidence.

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Not the strongest defense I ever heard mounted. It is a well known rule of thumb that "You get what you pay for" and if you go for the cheap end then of course quality will be affected. As the contracts are sought after from large bodies costs will be cut further until sooner or later someone will, with no quality left to cut, break the law to win the contract. Councils and other such bodies mentioned are most certainly responsible along with central Government as they in turn set your environment. It is time you people earn't your executive salaries by accepting the responsibilities you are paid to accept.

Stephen Sampford (18/02/2013 13:55:52)

Every contract will have a specification, within which it may stipulate quality issues, nutritional value (especially with schools) and so forth. Hence it is not all about price, furthermore some contracts are evaluated on most economically advantageous. The Iceland Chief Xo is just looking to muddy the waters and pass blame elsewhere. This coming from a food retailer where it is well reported that they squeeze farmers for every penny. Amateurish comments!

Mike Kay (18/02/2013 15:43:39)