FARM LEADERS have warmly welcomed the fact the European Food Safety Authority has advised that the UK’s BSE risk status should be downgraded to ‘moderate risk‘.

The opinion will open the way to normal trading of British beef across the EU, once the relevant legislation is changed.

Tim Bennett, president of the National Farmers Union, said it was fantastic news for the British livestock industry.

“It reflects the hard work put in by farmers and the entire industry to eradicate BSE and restore public confidence.

But he added: “The British government must now follow the lead taken by the EU and change the Over Thirty Month rule in light of the European recommendations.”

NFU Scotland president John Kinnaird said the decision marked an important step towards dismantling the Date Based Export Scheme.

Prior to the export ban being put in place in 1996, Scottish beef exports amounted to 42,000t and were worth 118m annually.

“The work of the industry and government in Brussels to clearly make the case for moderate risk status and an unwinding of controls has paid dividends,” he said.

“It has been a long haul reaching this point, but we must now build on this and get meaningful changes implemented as a matter of urgency.

“EFSA has recognised the justification of simplifying the Date Based Export Scheme, however NFUS believes the complete removal of the scheme is now appropriate.”

Higher prime cattle prices were now a genuine prospect, said the National Beef Associations‘ export development committee chairman, Keith Redpath.

“The export ban is the biggest single reason market prices have not recovered to pre-1996 levels even though domestic demand for beef is higher than it has been since 1989.

“Now that its dissolution is moving ever closer we are looking forward to export purchase quickly lifting prime cattle values by at least 10p-15p.”