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Horsemeat: Retailers must accept ultimate accountability says Co-Op chief executive

22 February 2013

Co-Op chief executive, Peter Marks, says food retailers must ‘accept ultimate accountability’ for products containing horsemeat sold to customers, adding that ‘the buck stops here’.

Marks made the comments in an open letter to customers and accepted responsibility for the part his company played in the contamination.

“The Co-op was forced to pull two lines of frozen burgers, made by Silvercrest Foods in Ireland, after they were found to contain horse meat,” he said. “Further tests on the company’s own-brand minced beef products have proved negative. I believe that as a result of this food scandal we have let you down.

“We cannot blame the government or the regulators, or even our suppliers. At the end of the day, the buck stops here."

The public apology is the latest in a series of communications from Tesco boss, Philip Clarke and Waitrose managing director, Mark Price.

Peter Marks’ statement in full
I wanted to update you personally on the work we are doing to restore the trust of our customers and members following the discovery of meat contamination across the UK and European food industry.

But first let me make an apology.

I believe that as a result of this food scandal we have let you down. The discovery of meat contamination in two of our own brand products has caused you to question the trust that you can place in us as a food retailer. I strongly believe that all food retailers must accept ultimate accountability for the products we sell to our customers. We cannot blame the government or the regulators, or even our suppliers. At the end of the day, the buck stops here. 

I made these points as forcibly as I could in a series of media interview last Friday as I believe it is important for retailers to take a public stand.

Test results
I can now share with you the results from the mass testing of products requested by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). I am pleased to report that the first 76 (out of 102 of our own brand products sent for testing) have proved negative for horsemeat contamination. Our tests are still ongoing and we expect to have further results at the end of this week.

Previously, we removed two lines of frozen own brand beef burgers which were found to contain horsemeat DNA which had been supplied by Silvercrest Foods, Co Monaghan, Ireland. We specify that all meat in our frozen burgers should be 100% British, and as a result we have taken the decision to delist Silvercrest as a supplier. In addition, we are tightening our quality checks to ensure our products meet the high specifications that we set on behalf of our customers.

Stringent checks
But we now need to go further. Our intention is review all of our meat supply chain and to put in place an enhanced process with greater robustness and transparency to ensure that we know the full provenance of all of our meat products. In fact, our testing across all of our food products is to be stepped up. To achieve this we will have to carry out more stringent checks, However, I can assure you that any additional cost will not be passed onto you. We do not expect our customers to pay for this necessary rigour.

Our Co-operative values
As many of you will know, The Co-operative has its origins in the 19th century when the pioneers of our business set up the first community owned food stores to address the problem of food adulteration. Ever since then, openness, honesty and trust have been central to our relationship with our members and our customers.

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that all of our fresh beef is currently British and assured to Red Tractor standards. The Co-operative’s fresh and frozen chicken, fresh turkey and fresh pork is 100% British and also bred to our exclusive higher welfare standards.
Let me assure you that we are doing all we can to put the current situation right, so that the integrity of our products and the trust that we have spent generations building up is restored as soon as possible.

I will provide you with further updates on our test results and on the improvements to our food supply chain in due course.

With kind regards,

Peter Marks
Group Chief Executive, The Co-operative

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