BRUSSELS Most British exports of fresh beef and lamb to the rest of Europe can resume soon with the exception of meat from a zone in southern England hit by foot and mouth disease, the European Commission said on Wednesday.
However, Britain remains a "high-risk area" for the highly contagious livestock virus, the commission said.
The governmwnt has confirmed cases of foot and mouth on eight farms during an outbreak which began in Surrey on August 3.
The EU banned all British exports of fresh meat, live animals and dairy products immediately afterwards but is relaxing that except for the area where the disease has been found.
"The export of fresh beef and sheep meat would be allowed to resume from the parts of Great Britain which fall outside a 200-km delineated area around the surveillance zone in southeast England, subject to strict animal health conditions," the commission said.
EU veterinary experts backed a decision that "the whole of Great Britain would remain a high-risk area with regard to the movement restrictions for susceptible animals and untreated products", it added.
The decision would be adopted formally from October 12 but would enter into force only if there were no more outbreaks outside the affected area, the Commission said.
If any such outbreak did occur, the "EU provision allowing certain parts of Great Britain to export fresh meat will be automatically suspended", the commission said.
"I hope that as exports resume this will ease the very real pressures farmers have been facing and we will continue to do all we can to enable exports to resume from the remaining parts of Britain as soon as possible," farm minister Hilary Benn said.
Britain suffered a crippling FMD outbreak in 2001 when more than six million animals had to be culled. The outbreak hit agriculture and tourism hard, costing the economy an estimated 8.5 billion pounds.
"This decision is more than we expected," said Nigel Miller, vice-president of the National Farmers' Union Scotland.
"The effect of the export ban in the sheep, dairy and pigs sectors in particular has been horrendous, leading to major welfare problems," he said in a statement, adding that the EU export ban was costing Scotland a million pounds each week.
A highly contagious disease that spreads easily on the wind, FMD can cause animals to foam at the mouth, collapse and leave them with serious health problems.
(additional reporting by Nigel Hunt in London)