British beef should be back on continental dinner plates early next year, following a favourable report by EU vets into the country’s BSE controls.

The report, published today (28 Sept) follows a visit made by the commission’s Food and Veterinary Office to GB last June.

In particular they examined the country’s BSE surveillance systems, the controls on specified risk materials and animal feeds and the system of cattle identification and registration.

Satisfactory progress was noted in most areas – a prerequisite for any lifting of the date-based export scheme.

To resume normal exports the incidence of BSE also has to drop below 200 cases per million head of adult cattle – something the UK achieved in February.

“The two conditions which the European Commission set out in its TSE road map for discussions to begin on lifting the embargo on British beef have now been met,” said food safety commissioner Markos Kyprianou.

The next stage will be for member states to discuss the report’s findings in the EU’s food chain committee.

In the light of these discussions the commission will draw up a proposal for ending the date-based export scheme – probably before the end of October.

If a sufficient majority of member state experts approve that proposal in the committee, then the DBES will be scrapped.

The greater likelihood, however, is that the issue will have to be decided by EU agriculture ministers at their meeting in December.

It remains to be seen if any political obstacles are thrown up.

NFU Scotland president John Kinnaird urged the commission and the UK government to move quickly.

“Older cattle will be back in the food chain in the UK in six weeks and we need to have our continental markets reopened as soon as possible.

“We have already asked DEFRA to ensure it accelerates the usual consultation process.”

A recent stakeholder group meeting in London was told by DEFRA that mid-February was the most likely date for normal exports to resume.