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 unsung heroes of Aberfan

How volunteer embalmers helped to handle the Welsh village’s tragedy.

Fifty years ago, on 22 October 1966, the Midland Division of the Institute of Embalmers gathered, bow-tied and ballgowned, in Nottingham, for the high point of the social calendar – the annual ladies’ night. The banquet was interrupted by a telegram requesting urgent help. In Aberfan, a Welsh village near Merthyr Tydfil, a 40-foot wall of coal waste had slid down a mountain at over 100mph and hit the Pantglas Junior School, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Leaving their partners, the volunteer embalmers returned home to collect equipment, embalming fluid and coffins. Travelling through the night, they arrived in Aberfan to join colleagues from across the UK. Some had flown from Northern Ireland on a plane with the seats removed to accommodate stacks of child-size coffins. Billy Doggart was one of them, and it was he who co-ordinated their extraordinary efforts. 

Some of the bodies recovered from the school were already wrapped in blankets and laid on the pews of the Bethania Chapel. Makeshift mortuary stations were quickly established. Working without electricity or running water, the embalmers took over from the police and performed their first task: cleaning the bodies for identification. The viscous slurry that had swallowed the school also covered the bodies. One embalmer, fresh from his honeymoon, told me that his first job was to remove a boy’s shirt and take it outside to the waiting parents. He had to hold it aloft and ask whose little boy had been wearing it. Usually in disaster situations such as plane crashes or explosions, identification is a big problem. Not so at Aberfan, where every parent was waiting outside, distraught and eagle-eyed for evidence of their child.

Once identified, each body was further cleaned and embalmed, ready to be placed in a coffin. In the Calvinistic chapel nearby, five embalming units were established in the vestry and a further two in the foyer. Dead bodies deteriorate rapidly, so embalming was an urgent task to save the bereaved from further distress. With nothing but rudimentary equipment and buckets of water that were carried back and forth by volunteers, the embalmers worked quickly and efficiently. Ever mindful of the parents waiting patiently outside, they tried to hide the worst of the damage wrought by the brutal impact.

Many men returned to their day jobs on the Monday after the disaster, having worked non-stop through the weekend in Wales. By the evening, all of the recovered bodies had been treated, and just six volunteers remained, waiting on call all night in case further recoveries were made. From Tuesday to Friday, it was just Billy Doggart, on sentinel watch at the school site, aware that the longer the bodies had lain under the wreckage, the quicker the decomposition would be once they were exposed to air.

Half a century later, disaster rescue work looks different to this. The privately owned disaster management company Kenyon International Emergency Services maintains three deployment-ready, disaster-scale morgues, ready for shipment anywhere in the world.

Yet, however advanced and efficient rescue operations have become, it will always require one human being willing to stand next to the mutilated body of another and treat it with respect and dignity. The aim is the same is it was that day in Aberfan: to give practical help at moments of shock and disaster.

With formaldehyde classified as a human carcinogen, and the whole process certainly not environmentally friendly, (although there are now organic embalming chemicals made with plant oils approved by the Green Burial Council), some argue that the main benefits of embalming are financial. There is a valid debate to be had over how we do it, but in disaster situations there can be no doubt embalming is a compassionate act.

For the past year I’ve been writing a novel about a fictitious embalmer at Aberfan, and have been privileged to interview some of those who were there at the time of the disaster, including Doggart. I’ve spent time with local embalmers and once I even watched one at work. What impressed me, during a shockingly intimate and invasive process, was the care and profound attitude of service with which it was done.

“Most of us are on anti-depressants,” one embalmer said to me matter-of-factly, “and most of us have lost and found, or found and lost our faith at least once”. Inevitably, there is a price to pay for those who go against the grain of human nature and confront our mortality on a daily basis.

The Queen visited Aberfan a week after the disaster, and Doggart was presented to her on behalf of his embalming team. I went there in September, and looked through the book of press cuttings collated for the anniversary. I found no mention of the embalmers, who had quietly arrived to serve a community at the very extremity of human distress and then quietly left again. Heroic by anyone’s standards, these men returned home with a sense of a testing job well done and unspeakable memories seared into their psyches.

A police officer who worked alongside the embalmers later wrote to Billy: “I shall always remember the expressions of relief on the faces of the bereaved who were able to view their children at the Chapel of Rest. . . They will never know the wonderful work that you and your colleagues performed to make this possible.”

Maybe that’s the point. Some heroes, by the very nature of their work, remain unsung.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage