The French government has lifted the ban it imposed on British beef six years ago amid concerns over BSE.

The ban was in defiance of a European Union ruling in1999 which declared that British beef no longer carried the risk of mad cow disease - the human form of BSE.

Last month France’s food safety agency said it was in favour of lifting the ban deemed illegal by the European Court of Justice. The French were in line for daily fines of £100,000 for continuing the embargo.

The National Farmers’ Union lashed out at the French for “cynically exploiting false consumer protection issues in a shameless attempt to protect their own beef producers”.

NFU president Ben Gill added: “It is unacceptable that such a clearly illegal ban has been able to be imposed for this length of time. It is equally unacceptable that the French can walk away from this disgraceful situation at the last possible moment before fines are imposed."

The Meat and Livestock Commission, which has acknowledged that the French market has been lost and any recovery in sales will take years of hard promotional work, is now looking forward to promote British beef at the SIAL international food Show in Paris on October 20-24..

It is expected the French will take another week or two to unravel the red tape which will allow the first British beef to be taken into France.