A worldwide ban on British beef exports has been lifted by the European Union, ten years after it was introduced to prevent the spread of mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis, BSE.
The EU vets' committee unanimously adopted the resolution to lift the ban as the UK has taken necessary measures to prevent the spread of the disease. The resolution will go to the European Commission, which will adopt the measures lifting the ban within around six weeks.
The lifting means that live animals born after 1 August, 1996, beef and beef products made from cattle slaughtered after 15 June 2005 will be able to be exported.
EU commissioner for health and consumer protection Markos Kyprianou said it was time to acknowledge the "great strides" the UK had made to meet all the criteria for lifting the ban.
"The commission has taken no chances when it comes to dealing with BSE and the most stringent monitoring and control measures have been applied. Precautionary measures, including the embargo on UK beef exports, were taken when deemed necessary to fully protect consumers", he added.
BSE or mad cow disease mainly affected cattle in the UK where millions of animals had to be destroyed in the 1990s. More than 183,000 cases have been confirmed in the UK to date, with the annual total peaking at more than 37,000 clinical cases in 1992.
The number of new clinical cases is currently at the lowest level since recording began. BSE has been linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), a disease that causes paralysis and death in humans.
The British National Farmers' Union welcomed the move as their members had lost out on trade worth 1.2 billion US dollars a year and Environment minister, Margaret Beckett, said it was "a vindication" of the UK's efforts to control BSE.
"We know that our beef is, at the very least, as safe as beef produced anywhere else in the EU", added Ms Beckett.
The Paris based International Organization of Epizooties, OIE, considers a "moderate risk" when the number of cattle infected with BSE drops to less than 200 per million cattle.
However the lifting of the ban of British beef exports does not mean an end to the disease in the EU: in early March Holland confirmed another case and Sweden the only EU country immune so far, reported its first case