Farmers and food exporters welcomed a ruling by European Union veterinary experts on Wednesday night to lift the eight-month ban on the export of pork meat from Britain.
The decision will bring relief to the agriculture industry which has been suffering from restrictions imposed on Britain's £600m export market since the first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed in Essex in February.
Counties which have not had a case of the disease and which do not adjoin high-risk areas will be able to export pork and bacon from 22 October, provided there are no new outbreaks.
The decision was made by the European Union's Standing Veterinary Committee but does not affect beef, lamb and dairy products, which are still subject to an export ban.
The National Farmers' Union and the National Pig Association said the news offered "desperately welcome" access to overseas markets.
The NFU president, Ben Gill, said: "This is the first of many steps that will need to be taken to rebuild Britain's livestock industry."
Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, also said she was delighted, but added: "It is important not to drop our guard."
The Meat and Livestock Commission's international manager, Peter Hardwick, said: "We will be working hard to re-establish our pig meat exports as soon as possible and secure the lifting of restrictions in other areas and on cattle and sheep soon."
An export ban was imposed by the European Union on 21 February after the first outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 20 years was confirmed in Brentwood, Essex. The move forced out of business many farms that had survived the BSE crisis, swine fever and plunging meat prices. There have been 2,030 foot-and-mouth cases in Britain, with the last outbreak on 30 September.
Hopes were raised in Northumberland yesterday that some of the most stringent foot-and-mouth biosecurity measures introduced anywhere in the UK have enabled it to shake off the disease, after more than two weeks without a new case in the region.
Scientists have urged caution about relaxing biosecurity measures nationwide on the grounds that past experience of foot-and-mouth epidemics has shown how easily the disease can flare up again when restrictions are lifted.
Arthur Griffiths, divisional veterinary manager at the disease control centre in Newcastle, said veterinary patrols would be dropped if another week passed without a new case in the so-called Blue Box bio-security zone, which was twice expanded after the disease "jumped" its boundaries.
Defra also announced that foot-and-mouth restrictions were being lifted at more than 200 farms in north-west Northumberland and Teesside, which neighbour the blue box area.
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