Five questions answered on the latest development in the horsemeat scandal

Plot thickens with Findus lasagne.

As the plot thickens in the UK horsemeat food fiasco we answer five questions on the latest developments.

What’s happened now?

Due to more products being found to contain horsemeat – the latest is Findus’s lasagne containing up to 100 per cent horsemeat – The Food Standards agency has ordered all UK retailers to test processed beef products for horsemeat.

The agency has asked for test results by next Friday.

Findus had tested 18 of its beef lasagne products and found 11 meals containing between 60 per cent and 100 per cent horsemeat. The products were made by a third-party French supplier, Comigel, who alerted the company that they may not “confirm to specification”.

Why is this happening?

No one knows for sure, but there has been speculation that criminal activity may be responsible.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has already said it was "highly likely" criminal activity was to blame for the contamination.

It’s Chief executive Catherine Brown told the BBC: "I have to say that the two cases of gross contamination that we see here indicates that it is highly likely there has been criminal and fraudulent activity involved.”

The FSA added that police are involved in ongoing enquires in relation to the horsemeat scandal.

Is there any health risk from all this unauthorised meat that has found its ways into supermarkets’ frozen foods?

No. The FSA has said:

"There is no reason to suspect that there's any health issue with frozen food in general, and we wouldn't advise people to stop eating it."

Although, it has asked Findus to test its products for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, or "bute, which is not allowed to the enter food system, but if it did it could be harmful to humans.

Is this food still on supermarket shelves?

On Monday Findus withdrew its beef lasagne in 320g, 360g and 500g sizes as a precaution

Earlier this week, Comigel had advised Findus and Aldi to withdraw Findus Beef Lasagne and Aldi's Today's Special Frozen Beef Lasagne and Today's Special Frozen Spaghetti Bolognese. An Aldi spokesperson confirmed they had been removed and it is conducting its own investigation.

Tesco also decided to withdraw Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese as it was produced at the same site, but there is no evidence it has been contaminated.

What’s going to happen next?

Most likely more revelations, these are expected as further testing is carried out.

Labour's Mary Creagh told the BBC:

"What we have had over the last four weeks is a constant drip, drip, drip of revelations from the food industry, from the Food Standards Agency, and what I am worried about is that the more they are testing for horse, the more they are finding," she said.

Adding: "It's simply not good enough for ministers to sit at their desks and pretend this isn't happening."

A statement from the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) to the BBC said "deplores the latest reported incidents of gross contamination of some processed meat products".

"The BMPA has urged its members to be vigilant, and to review their raw material and ingredients-sourcing procedures in order to ensure that they meet their responsibilities to produce safe food and to describe and label their products accurately."

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for

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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide