The Over Thirty Months rule will be officially lifted on 7 November, DEFRA has confirmed. It will be replaced by the testing regime recommended by the Food Standards Agency.

The announcement, which is the result of a year’s wrangling between DEFRA, the FSA and the Department of Health, paves the way for an estimated 635,000 OTM cattle, or 185,000t of meat, to enter the food chain in the first year after the lifting of the ban.

It should also serve to increase the percentage of UK produced beef consumed.

Earlier this week the government accepted the FSA’s advice that the proposed testing system that would allow meat from cattle over 30 months old into the food chain was suitably robust to protect human health.

NBA chief executive Roberty Forster welcomed the announcement.  “Income prospects for both breeders and finishers are good because the current average for 0-3 cows in the Republic of Ireland, which is an indicator of likely UK prices, is 135p/kgdw compared with just 89p from the OTM cull.”

More than 100 slaughtering plants have applied to slaughter OTM bovines with 53 plants planning to start from the first week.

The Meat Hygiene Service, which will be responsible for enforcing the testing system, has recruited an extra 185 personnel as a result of the change.

The brain samples taken for testing after slaughter will be sent by abattoirs to one of three laboratories in Great Britain (at Runcorn, Teddington or Edinburgh) or the Department for Rural Affairs laboratory in Northern Ireland.

The four laboratories have capacity to test in excess of 1m samples per annum.

DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett said: “Protection of human health remains the government’s priority. It is imperative that abattoirs and cutting plants that decide to process beef from older cattle operate tight controls and follow all agreed procedures.”

Mrs Beckett also confirmed that DEFRA will continue its efforts in Brussels to ensure that beef from cattle born after 1 August 1996 can be exported as soon as possible.

However, changes to export restrictions are not expected to come in to effect before early 2006.