Midland farmers were celebrating yesterday after tight restrictions put on the beef industry in the wake of the BSE crisis were finally lifted after almost ten years.

Farming leaders said the scrapping of the scheme, which saw cattle over 30 months taken out of the food chain and "confined to the skip", was a major step forward for the beef industry.

For the first time today, cattle over 30 months old will be used in beefburgers, pies and other processed food

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Tests will be carried out on the older beasts at slaughterhouses to ensure they do not carry BSE.

It is also hoped lifting restrictions will help re-open the export trade, putting British beef back on continental dinner plates.

Andrew Richards, senior food and farming adviser for the NFU West Midlands, said it was a step forward to a prosperous future for the beef industry.

"It is a really significant day. It will open up the market for older animals, which is an important part of the meat industry. The older beef is more suited to the manufacturing process and we are using a product which should be in the food chain and not confined to the skip."

Where farmers were previously paid the market value for their carcasses under the OTMS scheme, they will now be given an opportunity to improve their returns.

The OTMS scheme will still be made available to farmers until January.

However, with the export market still currently closed, there is a fear farmers could lose out.

Mr Richards added: "It is important that there should be controls on the volumes coming on to the market. No one wants to have a glut of beef. It is important we get the export market opened up again.

"Once that happens we are looking in the long term at quite a prosperous future."

Mr Richards said France, once the biggest European customer for our beef, importing a third of the 224,000 tonnes sold on the continent, was keen to re-open trade with Britain.

"There is still a lot of work to do and many of our European countries will have to amend legislation and allow British beef back but that will take a little while and we are working on that," he said.

Farming Minister Lord Bach said Ministers were holding talks to re-open the export market.

He said: "It is clear that this is a big change and after nine years we have got our way. It is obviously going to make a change for farmers - it is much better that they have the option to either put it into the food chain or, for the next couple of months, to be able to rely on the OTMS scheme in order to get their cattle slaughtered and we would like the end of the scheme to coincide with the opening of the export market.

"It is a big day for UK agriculture and beef producers. Public health remains our first priority and that is the reason why all over 30 month cattle will be tested after slaughter to make sure it is disease free."

The Meat and Livestock Commission is anticipating that there could be 80,000 older beasts destined for the human food chain in the next two months, adding 23,000 tonnes to the UK beef supply.

"We are reasonably confident that there will be sufficient slaughter capacity to deal with them," said MLC head of policy Stephen Rossides. National Beef Association chairman Duff Burrell said the logistics of finding out which abattoirs were prepared to handle OTM cattle was a real problem.

Not all abattoirs approved to process older beef for the food chain would choose to do so, and if a producer sent cattle to a factory that was only doing OTMS, he would only get the OTMS price for them. "No farmer should send any OTM cattle to an abattoir unless they are completely sure the abattoir is killing cows when they arrive," he warned.