British beef and cattle exporters have been given the go-ahead to resume normal exporting to Europe, ending ten years of restrictions.

EU veterinary experts meeting in Brussels today (Wednesday) have voted unanimously in favour of ending the date-based export scheme (DBES).

The decision follows a favourable report by EU veterinary inspectors into the UK’s BSE controls last year, and a downgrading of the UK from “high risk” to “moderate risk” as the incidence of the disease has fallen.

The announcement has been warmly welcomed by farming and meat industry bodies.

“This is the most positive news for the British beef industry in a decade,” said NFU president Peter Kendall.

“We can now look forward to recapturing the £675m market that was lost when the ban was put in place.”

MLC director general Kevin Roberts paid tribute to the hard work put in by government and industry to lift the ban.

“The market will become more competitive and there will be increased opportunities for our beef producers and processors.”

Exports were banned ten years ago, when BSE in cattle was first linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Limited exports resumed in 1999 under the DBES, but the conditions were so restrictive that volumes remained small.

The decision to end the DBES will not take place with immediate effect, however.

The EU parliament now has 30 days to scrutinise the decision and then it will take another two weeks to draw up and adopt the legal texts.

The second half of April therefore seems the most likely date for trade to resume.

The change in the rules will also mean that the UK has to adopt the EU norm for removing vertebral column from cattle carcasses at 24 months, rather than the 30 months that currently applies.

In 1995, the last full year before British beef exports were banned, shipments reached 274,000t, worth £500m. Over 435,000 live calves and cattle were also exported.