Beef producers in Scotland have welcomed moves to allow older cattle back into the food chain, describing it as a huge boost to the industry.
Scottish beef exports could resume late next year
The lifting of the BSE-related ban will pave the way for beef exports to resume late next year.
It was introduced eight years ago in response to the BSE crisis and stopped cattle over 30 months old from being slaughtered for human consumption.
BSE cases have reduced by 99% since the peak in the early 1990s.
Ministers now plan to remove the restriction providing a rigorous BSE testing system is put in place.
The Food Standards Agency recommended the move because of what it describes as the "very low risk to consumers and the effectiveness of other controls".
However, it is unlikely to happen before the second half of next year and export restrictions are not expected to be eased until later in 2005.
Health Minister Andy Kerr said: "Having weighed up all the factors and taken careful account of the advice of our experts, we now consider it appropriate to begin to move towards a system of BSE testing which will in due course replace the over 30 months rule."
Rural Development Minister Ross Finnie said: "It is encouraging that the BSE epidemic in cattle has declined to its current low level, but we must remain
vigilant and ensure that strict controls remain in place."
Liberal Democrat MSP George Lyon, a former president of the National Farmers' Union in Scotland, called it a "significant" step.
He said: "The unilateral ending of the scheme being advocated by the SNP was never credible and would have done little to build vital consumer confidence
at home or abroad."
But Scottish National Party rural affairs spokesman Richard Lochhead replied: "The SNP has been campaigning hard for this decision.
"The next stage is for Scottish ministers to put in place all the necessary measures that must be taken to ensure that Scotland's beef exports markets can
be reopened as soon as possible.
"Demand for Scots beef has not diminished and customers throughout Europe are crying out for Scots supplies."