LONDON (CNNfn) - The European Union Wednesday lifted the ban on British beef imposed three years ago at the height of the so-called "mad cow disease" crisis.
Franz Fischler, the EU agriculture commissioner, said Wednesday that export of cow meat from the United Kingdom could resume Aug. 1. But limitations will still apply, with only de-boned meat from animals born after Aug. 1, 1996 cleared for export, and meat from cattle over 30 months old barred.
As part of the EU clearance, all offspring of animals linked to the outbreak that were born after Aug. 1, 1996 must also be destroyed. The date is significant, as it is considered by scientists as the day when the ban on contaminated cattle feed -- responsible for the outbreak of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the actual name of the disease -- was fully effective.
The lifting of the ban is a huge boost for British beef farmers, who have lost around $2.3 billion in business since the export block was imposed from Brussels. In 1995, the year prior to the ban, British beef exports were worth around some $1.2 billion a year.
National Farmers Union president Ben Gill expressed his delight at the lifting of the ban, and declared Aug. 1 "National British Beef Day." But he warned it would be an uphill struggle to repair the damage done to the industry's reputation.
"No one can pretend that simply re-opening our export channels will undo all the damage which has been done," Gill said.
The ban on exports of beef was lifted on Northern Ireland cattle a year ago, as the province had a highly-sophisticated cattle monitoring system not available elsewhere in Britain. But the industry there is still having trouble establishing export markets.
The blanket ban was introduced in Britain in March 1996 after U.K. scientists discovered a possible link between BSE in cattle and a new variant of the brain-wasting Creutzfeld-Jakob disease in humans.
So far 39 people have died of the disease in Britain since the scare started. Some experts are still predicting an outbreak of epidemic proportions, as the disease sometimes takes years to appear.