THE BOSS of Iceland has launched a scathing attack on the catering industry, claiming that they and the local authorities are to blame for the current horse meat crisis.
In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, February 17th, Malcolm Walker blamed the “invisible” catering sector for driving down food quality and using “back street manufacturers”.
The remarks come just a couple of days after horse meat was found in cottage pies supplied to 47 schools in Lancashire and in beef burgers sold by the UK’s largest caterer, Compass. This followed other findings in products sold in some of the major supermarkets.
The Local Authority Caterers Association (LACA) defended its members and a spokeswoman told the BBC that she was “disappointed” by Walker’s comments.
The remarks are likely to inflame a situation which has already seen food companies blaming one another. They also come on the eve of a meeting between environment secretary Owen Paterson and representatives from the major retailers, the Food and Drink Federation, and the Institute of Grocery Distribution. It is not known whether the catering sector is being represented at the meeting.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Walker said: "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.
"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.
The LACA confirmed in a statement that a “minute trace sample of horse DNA, not horse meat, was found in just one of the tested products which was a frozen cottage pie”. These were supplied by Oak Farm Foods and “affected a limited number of schools in the county”.
Responding to Walker’s comments directly a spokeswoman told the BBC: "Local authorities across the country have been totally supportive of driving food standards up in schools over the last few years."
It is not the first time that retailers have turned the spotlight on the catering sector. In July, the British Retail Consortium suggested that caterers and the public sector were not paying enough for milk.