Lifting the trade blockade means most British beef can be exported again, and will trigger a major marketing campaign designed to regain lost sales estimated to have cost the industry $2.37 billion.
The EU Commission voted to clear British beef for export following final approval from EU veterinary experts.
Â"What has changed is very clear. First of all, we have got positive advice from our scientists,Â" the EU's Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler told the BBC.
Â"Secondly, we did a lot of inspections in the United Kingdom and the results are now all positive, so it is justified now to lift the ban,Â" he said.
Britain welcomed the EU decision.
Â"This is a very important step to bringing British beef back to markets across the world,Â" a spokeswoman for the British Ministry of Agriculture said.
Â"But things will not happen overnight,Â" said Ben Gill, the president of the National Farmers' Union. Â"This decision is long overdue but it is much needed when the industry is in the depths of depression. We must now work to restore confidence in British beef.Â"
British beef will still be subject to strict precautions.
All meat for export must be de-boned and come from cattle born after Augusst 1, 1996, when a ban came into force on the feeding to animals of meat and bone-meal. Meat from cattle more than 30 months old will not be sold overseas.
The ban was imposed in March 1996 following an outbreak in Britain of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, and after medical researchers cited evidence of a link between the disease and the fatal human brain ailment, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease.
Portugal is the only other European country still forbidden to export beef, a ban that was extended by the EC last week until August 2000. Portugal has complained that the ban is discriminatory.
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