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Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, was savaged by Tory MPs yesterday over the latest scare about BSE infecting the British lamb chop, which sent the price of lamb tumbling by 20 per cent in markets around the country. The MPs were furious with Mr Hogg when he made a statement in the Commons, hoarse through a throat infection, announcing fresh steps to check against possible BSE in sheep, although there was "no direct threat to human health".

Mr Hogg, who survived the reshuffle in spite of heavy criticisism for his handling of "mad cow" disease, was accused by his own backbenchers of bowing to pressure from the EU and raising unfounded fears about the safety of the British lamb chop. Sir Patrick Cormack, the Tory MP for South Staffordshire, said: "We in danger of a national epidemic of paranoia." Paul Marland, another Euro-sceptic Tory, said: "Where is this going to end?" John Home Robertson, a Labour farming MP, said: "This is another fine mess."