The UK's Food and Drink Federation has welcomed the government's decision to accept advice from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to replace the Over Thirty Months (OTM) rule with BSE testing.

The decision will mean meat from cattle over thirty months old will be allowed into the food chain, providing it tests negative for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

"This regime will bring the UK back into line with fellow Member States by enabling the industry once again to use meat from cattle over thirty months old," said FDF deputy director general Martin Paterson.

"We also welcome the government's assurances that it will work in Brussels to ensure that beef from UK cattle born on or after 1 August 1996 can be exported again as soon as possible," he added.

Meanwhile, the FSA said ministers have also agreed a number of pre-conditions set by the agency to ensure continued consumer protection during implementation.

These include specially trained vets from the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) being required to visit every abattoir approved for testing during the first two days of operations with regular follow-ups, new laws making it illegal for farmers to send cattle born before August 1996 to slaughter for food, and an independent audit of the BSE testing system reporting six months following the rule change.

"We welcome the acceptance by ministers of the board's specific pre-conditions for the introduction of BSE testing. Through the whole of this process our aim has been to ensure that the new system is subject to rigorous, and transparent, scrutiny and that the testing system continues to protect public health," said FSA chair Deirdre Hutton.