British beef and cattle exporters have the go-ahead to resume normal exporting to Europe, ending 10 years of restrictions.

EU vets meeting in Brussels on Wednesday (8 March) voted unanimously in favour of ending the date-based export scheme (DBES).

The decision followed a favourable report by EU 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.

Farming and meat-industry bodies welcomed the outcome which, they predicted, would boost returns to livestock farmers.

“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.”

National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster said the re-opening of the export market would also “break the supermarket stranglehold” on farm prices.

“After 10 years in which we’ve had the market controlled by supermarkets, we’ll now be able to rejoin the EU market and have access to their higher prices.”

Most immediate gains would be for manufacturing beef, with UK cull cows fetching just 120p/kg dw, compared with 177p/kg in France, 166p/kg in the Netherlands and 159p/kg in Germany.

Prime cattle would also benefit, with UK finished animals currently getting 197p/kg dw, compared with 250p/kg in Italy, 228p/kg in France and 220p/kg in Spain.

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

The EU parliament now has 30 days to scrutinise the decision and it will take a further two weeks to adopt the legal texts.

Under the new rules, only cattle born after 1 August, 1996 and beef or beef products produced since 15 July, 2005 may be exported.

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

Exports were banned 10 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. In 1995, the last full year before exports were banned, shipments reached 274,000t, worth £500m.

Animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming is warning of mass demonstrations if farmers and exporters resume live shipments of young calves to Continental veal units.

“The revoking of the export ban gives the green light for calves to suffer once again the trauma of being taken from their mothers and sent on long, stressful journeys,” said CIWF campaigner Rowen West-Henzell.

philip.clarke@rbi.co.uk