Midland producers yesterday welcomed the move to lift a ban on British beef exports, claiming the decision will help loosen the stranglehold supermarkets have had on farmers.

The ten-year ban has enabled supermarket chains to drive down the price of beef but with competition from Europe, prices they receive for their cattle could rise by as much as ten per cent, farmers said.

Livestock producers said the decision made by Europe's veterinary experts to lift the ban imposed because of mad cow disease (BSE) would enable them to make a profit in what has been a struggling industry.

Herefordshire livestock farmer David Morgan said European countries were crying out for high quality British beef after surviving on imports from South America for the past decade.

Mr Morgan, who is also the NFU West Midlands livestock chairman, added: "It is going to put value back into the system and there are going to be opportunities for everyone. The European beef price is ten to 15 per cent above the UK price."

Mr Morgan said farmers, who had currently been paying to dispose of unwanted offal, would now be able to sell the cuts, seen as a delicacy in Europe. "The market in Europe is crying out for products like offal, whereas there is no demand here."

Mr Morgan said supermarkets would now have to compete for British beef.

"This decision is going to give the whole industry confidence that we have now got a

rival customer in the market. Our main customers have been the major retailers and suddenly they have got to compete. We have heard a lot of talk from British retailers about partnership and up until now that has been a very one sided partnership."

At its peak in 1992, the BSE outbreak recorded more than 37,000 cases of the disease.

The global export ban on UK cattle, meat and products, has been in place since March 1996. In 1999 the ban was eased to allow de-boned beef

and beef products to be exported.

Only beef and products from cattle born after August 1996 could be exported as long as the animals were between six and 30 months old and did not come from a BSE-infected herd.

Under yesterday's agreement - once endorsed officially by the Commission - UK farmers will be allowed to resume exports of all live animals born after August 1 1996.

The closure of beef export markets has cost the industry an estimated £675 million, and

even the easing of restrictions in 1999 did little to restore valuable markets. Now the National Farmers Union is expected to mount a major promotion campaign for British beef abroad as part of a long-term plan to restore consumer faith in British beef after years when continental customers have grown used to living without it.

But farm animal welfare organisation Compassion in World Farming appealed to British farmers not to resume sending calves abroad. It said

thousands of cattle once again face harrowing journeys abroad - with calves possibly destined for European veal production systems that are outlawed here.

Rowen West-Henzell, CIWF transport campaigner, said: "The revoking of this ban by the EU's Food and Animal Health Committee could spell disaster for Britain's calves.

"In particular it gives the green light for calves to suffer once again the trauma of being taken from their mothers and sent on long, stressful journeys

by land and sea. On arrival, some could end up in veal crates so narrow they can't even turn around, a system still legal on the continent until the end of the year."

It is feared the exports will provoke angry protests similar to those more than ten years ago, which claimed the life of Coventry activist Jill Phipps.

The mother-of-one died under the wheels of a lorry carrying veal calves for export from Coventry Airport in 1995.

Veal flights from Coventry ended after Jill's death.