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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
EU British beef curbs to be eased
Image of cows
Britain is rated as a "high risk" country for BSE transmission
The EU is set to allow more British beef exports after a favourable report on BSE prevention measures in the UK.

UK beef production has been restricted since 1996, when the cattle disease was linked to brain illness in humans.

A favourable report and a fall in BSE to below 200 cases per million cattle - achieved earlier this year - were required to take off the restrictions.

After EU chief veterinary officers met, the Health Commissioner said the conditions had been met.

"This favourable report means that the two conditions which the European Commission set out in its TSE-roadmap for discussions to begin with member states on lifting the embargo on British beef have now been met," the Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, announced.

Limited exports of British beef from animals aged between six and 30 months are currently allowed under the Date-based Export Scheme (DBES).

Other restrictions under the scheme include the requirement that beef from cattle aged over nine months be deboned.

The European Commission is now expected to draw up a proposal to lift the restrictions.

This is the beginning of the end, but nothing is automatic about the process
EC spokesman

BBC correspondent in Brussels Jonny Dymond says if the proposal is approved without reference to the Council of Ministers the ban could be lifted early next year.

A commission spokesman said: "This is the beginning of the end, but nothing is automatic about the process.

"Today there will be a preliminary look at the inspectors' report and then the commission will, in the next few weeks, prepare a proposal to lift the remaining embargo on British beef in the light of discussions with the member states."

The report follows a decline in the number of British beef cattle infected with BSE, also known as mad cow disease, and an inspection by its veterinary inspection team in June.

The inspectors reported satisfactory progress had been made on matching BSE surveillance standards in the UK with those in other EU member states.

'Mad cow disease'

They had some reservations about the testing of animals which die on farms but said the main conditions for lifting the ban had been met.

BBC rural affairs correspondent Tom Heap says the report signals the beginning of the end for the curbs.

While some member states may come under pressure from their own farmers and consumers to maintain restrictions, he says British officials are optimistic, believing the science is on their side.

In April, the UK government revealed that British beef was still banned in 84 countries around the world.

However, it recently announced an end to its own ban on human consumption of beef from cattle aged over 30 months, alongside the introduction of stricter testing.

The human disease Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) was recognised in 1996 and is thought to result from the consumption of BSE-infected meat.

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