The EU's member states have accepted a proposal from the European Commission to remove all restrictions on the export of cows, beef and related animal products from Portugal.

The embargo was adopted in November 1998 because of the high rate of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in Portugal at that time combined with inadequate management of the disease. Since then, Portugal has taken firm risk management action and the incidence of BSE has consistently decreased, the Commission said.

"Portugal has made very significant efforts to deal with its BSE situation and will now reap the rewards of resumed trade. As I approach the end of my term in office, I am very pleased to see that consumer confidence in beef has finally returned as a result of the effective efforts made by all EU countries in the management of BSE," said David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection.

The decision to lift the embargo was agreed today by the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, consisting of representatives of the EU member states and chaired by the European Commission. During the coming weeks, the legal texts will be formally adopted by the European Commission and published in the Official Journal, after which they will immediately enter into force.