EU seen set to end 10-year ban on UK beef
BRUSSELS, Mar 4 (Reuters) A 10-year European Union ban on British beef due to mad cow disease looks set to be removed next week, an EU official said on Friday.
''The feeling we have is that the ban will be lifted at the vote (by EU veterinary experts) next week,'' the official said.
Italy might try to block the deal, blaming coming elections there as a reason not to vote on the issue, the official added.
However, the vote will be by qualified majority and the executive European Commission is confident that Britain can answer any outstanding concerns other member states may have.
The beef export ban was imposed on Britain at the peak of the 1990s mad cow scare.
British beef exports to the European Union were halted in 1996 as the brain-wasting disease, known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), spread through the country.
Europe's outbreaks of BSE caused panic in the 1980s and 1990s with 184,000 cases registered in Britain by 2004.
About 150 people have died, mostly in Britain, from the human form of BSE, variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD), after eating tainted meat.
However, Britain's number of BSE cases fell from a peak of 37,000 in 1993 to 343 in 2004 BSE was caused by feeding cattle with infected parts of other cattle. The EU banned animal parts from feed and tightened food safety laws to limit what parts of cattle can enter the food chain.
At a meeting in December, veterinary experts from at least 10 EU countries voiced their support for the ban to be removed after Britain presented them with its latest BSE update.
About the same number asked for more information, but British authorities have now provided more epidemiological information and technical details on the country's BSE testing system.
''We expect intense discussions and the UK has been asked for a number of clarifications. But signs are that a deal will be struck,'' the official said.
However, the exact date that British beef could be seen on supermarket shelves across the EU remains uncertain and that will form part of the negotiations.
Britain has already fulfilled the first precondition for lifting the embargo with a moderate risk status for BSE of fewer than 200 cattle per million per year with the disease.
Britain's last full year of beef exports was in 1995 when shipments amounted to some 274,000 tonnes. The main market was France, which took 80,000 tonnes.
Several schemes have been put in place to enable Britain to continue to export beef but trade has been very limited.
Among these was a date-based scheme that made it possible to sell, subject to certain conditions, meat from animals aged between six and 30 months at the time of slaughter and born in Britain after August 1996.
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