The Government is certain to face demands to make urgent protests to Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler, who has now conceded the ban was imposed not in the interests of public safety but to prevent a collapse of the European beef market.
Mr Fischler, who is Austrian, said: "I wouldn't hesitate to eat beef in England. I see no medical reason not to."
Tory MP Sir Gerard Vaughan led the outcry as ministers studied the commissioner's remarks. "This is an absolutely astonishing situation," he said. "Here is the man who has made Britain a scapegoat, and is victimising the British farmer and the British taxpayer, now conceding that all this has been done just for the convenience of Europe.
"So we are quite clearly being victimised quite unnecessarily, simply to save the beef market elsewhere. The situation is totally indefensible."
Mr Fischler's comments were dismissed as "too little, too late" by Jenny Burt, chairman of the International Meat Trade Association export committee. "It is a pity he did not say this very publicly when the question of a ban was first raised," she said. "His admission that the ban was not in the interests of public safety, but in the interests of the rest of Europe, does not surprise me at all."