The automatic ban on cattle over 30 months old being sold as meat is to be phased out, the government has said.
BSE cases have fallen sharply
The Over Thirty Month rule, which stops older cattle from entering the food chain, was introduced to combat the spread of BSE - or mad cow disease.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) says the measure is not now proportionate to the risk, as the number of cases of the disease has now fallen dramatically.
A system of robust testing of cattle for BSE will be introduced instead.
Under the planned system only cattle which test negative for the disease will be sold for human consumption.
Environment secretary Margaret Beckett said the protection of public health remained the government's priority.
"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.
"The final switch-over will not happen until the FSA has advised that the testing system is robust."
Further work was needed on setting up a quality-assured testing regime, however, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.
FSA chairman Sir John Krebbs said the FSA advised replacing the Over Thirty Month rule with BSE testing because of the "very low risk" to consumers and the "effectiveness of other controls".
"However this is still subject to there being a robust BSE testing system for cattle born on or after 1 August 1996 in place and the agency has to set up an independent group to advise on this."
The incidence of BSE has been declining since its peak in 1992 and has now fallen by over 99%, Defra said.
The number of new clinical cases detected is also at the lowest levels since recording began, Defra added.
Mrs Beckett also said she would work with the European Union to ensure that beef from British cattle born after 1 August 1996 can be exported as soon as possible.