Beef-on-bone ban to end

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The beef-on-the-bone ban is to be lifted by the Government - putting T-bone steaks back on British menus.

The beef-on-the-bone ban is to be lifted by the Government - putting T-bone steaks back on British menus.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown was set to announce an end to the ban to the Commons this afternoon after the Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland and Wales met this morning and agreed the recommendation.

However, it was unclear whether the ban will be gone in time for Christmas because a period of consultation would be necessary although the Prime Minister's official spokesman said the Government hoped the ban could be lifted "sooner rather than later".

The lifting of the ban was greeted with relief by opposition politicians and the farmers' union but all called for it to be put into effect immediately.

Shadow Agriculture Minister Tim Yeo said: "I would like to see beef-on-the-bone on the table by dinner time this evening.

"It's only if that happens that we will be sending the right signals to French consumers that British beef is safe to eat."

Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Colin Breed said: "This announcement is not before time.

"I only hope the ban will be ended immediately. British farmers have suffered far too long. I look forward to sitting down to a British T-bone steak tonight."

National Farmers' Union president Ben Gill said the medical officers' decision was "excellent news".

He said: "The NFU has always said that the ban should never have been implemented. Consumers should have the right to choose whether T-bone steaks are on their menu."

News of the lifting of the ban comes just 24 hours before Mr Blair was due to host a "beef summit" at 10 Downing Street with industry leaders and farmers' representatives to work out a marketing strategy for export sales of British meat.

It also comes amid optimism that a breakthrough on lifting the French ban on British beef was drawing nearer.

A spokesman for the European Commission welcomed the Government's decision to lift the ban on beef-on-the-bone and said: "Everything is moving in the right direction. This is a good sign."

The two issues are not directly linked but the psychological boost to the battle with France was acknowledged by the Commission today.

France has a deadline of midnight tonight to reply to the launch of EU legal proceedings for refusing to lift the ban on British beef.

But the spokesman said that diplomatic moves were going so well that there would be no immediate concern if the deadline was missed.

"In the current circumstances in which there is every sign that this dispute is going to be resolved amicably, we do not consider it to be a calamity if the French do not meet the deadline tonight."

The Government was heavily criticised for imposing the beef-on-the-bone ban in December 1997 instead of leaving it to families to weigh up the risk for themselves.