Horsemeat scandal
Horsemeat scandal

The environment secretary will meet Britain's four biggest supermarkets today to discuss ways to restore consumer confidence decimated by the horsemeat scandal.

Owen Paterson is meeting Asda, Sainsburys, Morrisons and Tesco later, after accusations of complacency in the government's response to the crisis.

Each of the four supermarkets will be asked what they are doing to restore faith in their meat products during talks at Westminster.

The talks come after tests carried out by the Food Standards Agency led to a string of arrests at processing plants.

Now there are fears that the crisis, which has so far hinged on false labelling, could evolve into a major health scare following the discovery of bute, a potentially dangerous drug, in the carcasses of horses being sent to abattoirs in France.

Consumer confidence has been severely shaken by the crisis, with nearly a quarter of shoppers saying they will buy less processed meat for now on.

A fifth of consumers said they will buy less meat of all quality, with 62 percent more likely to buy meat from independent butchers, according to BBC figures.

'Personally I wouldn't eat it'

Meanwhile the boss of frozen food giant Iceland, Malcolm Walker, has admitted that supermarket value products "don't contain much meat," and that he would not eat them.

Walker told the BBC: "Personally I wouldn't eat supermarket value products because they wouldn't contain much meat, there'll be other things in there whether its rusk or filler, [although] there's nothing wrong with those products."

However Walker insisted supermarkets were not to blame for the contamination. Instead, he said, the blame lay with local councils for awarding supply contracts based solely on the lowest price.

"People say we haven't been testing for horse, why would we? We don't test for hedgehog either. We stand by our products.

"Supermarkets shouldn't be blamed. UK supermarkets have a fantastic reputation and go to great lengths to protect their brands. If you're looking to blame someone for driving down food quality, it's invisible; it's schools, hospitals and councils."

The Local Government Association (LGA) rebuffed Walker's accusation by saying the industry had failed to supply "what it says on the wrapper."

LGA chairman Merrick Cockell said: "We have a contract with that retailer to provide with what it says on the wrapper and that is exactly the same with local government providing contractors for school meals or indeed the NHS with hospitals.

"I hope he [Walker] knows more about what's actually going on in retailing that he clearly does in contracting and local government."