Iceland apologises for chief's 'Panorama' remark dismissing Irish over test findings

Packets of Buitoni meat ravioli on a supermarket shelf in Madrid. Nestlé said its own tests found traces of horse DNA in its Buitoni beef ravioli and beef tortellini chilled pastas. photograph: reuters

Packets of Buitoni meat ravioli on a supermarket shelf in Madrid. Nestlé said its own tests found traces of horse DNA in its Buitoni beef ravioli and beef tortellini chilled pastas. photograph: reuters

Wed, Feb 20, 2013, 00:00

Frozen food retailer Iceland said it was “deeply sorry” yesterday after its chief executive Malcolm Walker made a dismissive remark about Irish people on BBC’s Panorama programme. The supermarket chain said Mr Walker retained the full support of his colleagues.

The Iceland boss had earlier been critical of the manner in which the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) had carried out tests that found two Iceland burgers contained traces of horse DNA.

‘That’s the Irish’

During the Monday night programme, Mr Walker said Iceland beef burgers contained beef. When told by presenter Richard Bilton that the Irish study found that the Iceland burgers contained horse DNA, he said: “Well, that’s the Irish, isn’t it?” He also said Iceland constantly tested its products. “Did we test for horse? No, but we haven’t tested for dog or cat either . . . you can’t test for everything.”

Yesterday a spokesman for Iceland said: “Iceland and Malcolm Walker are deeply sorry for any offence caused by his TV interview last night. His comments were not intended to be disrespectful to the Irish people, including our many Irish customers, colleagues and suppliers, or to the Irish food safety authorities.”

The spokesman said Iceland held Irish people and the FSAI “in the very highest regard” and it had expressed its gratitude to the FSAI for bringing the horse meat issue to public notice.

Mr Walker led a £1.45 billion management buyout of Iceland last year. There are eight Iceland stores in this State, operating under franchise from Iceland UK. Five are in Dublin and the remainder are in Ashbourne, Carlow and Clonmel. Iceland’s Irish website says it is going nationwide and is asking website visitors to suggest where they should open stores next.

Meanwhile, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland chief executive Prof Alan Reilly said the news that Nestlé was withdrawing products meant that the horse meat scandal was going global.

Nestlé said its tests had found traces of horse DNA in two products on sale in Italy and Spain, and made from beef supplied by a German company. It did not say what percentage of horse DNA was found in the Buitoni beef ravioli and beef tortellini chilled pastas, but said it was more than 1 per cent.

French-made lasagne

It also withdrew Lasagnes à la Bolognaise Gourmandes, a frozen meat product made in France for catering businesses.

Prof Reilly said the chilled pasta products were made by a subcontractor of a company called JBS Toledo.

“That’s the biggest beef manufacturer in the world. They manufacture ready meals for catering industries all over the world,” he said. “So it looks like this scandal has nearly gone global . . . the scale of this is just enormous . . . we certainly have uncovered fraud of a massive scale.”

Nestlé said it received test results yesterday on its processed beef products sold in the UK and Ireland and they confirmed no presence of horse DNA. The Nestlé products on sale in the UK and Ireland include seven Jenny Craig products and two Gerber baby food products.

Last night the UK Food Standards Agency said it had expanded its UK-wide survey of food authenticity in processed meat products being carried out through local authorities.

As well as minced beef products and ready meals, it will test beef-based foods that are sold pre-packed, or loose, such as cafe sandwiches.

Brussels ‘lax and neglectful’

Also yesterday, MEP Liam Aylward criticised the European Commission for failing to take note of the growing crime of food fraud. He said he raised the issue of food fraud with the commission last year and was disappointed with the response. The commission said official controls and penalties were in place to address food fraud and there was no need to develop a specific strategy to fight it.

“In light of the recent revelations of wide-scale food fraud across the EU, it would seem that the European Commission have been lax and neglectful in their procedures and commitment to identify and tackle food fraud,” Mr Aylward said.