The EU has agreed to shelve a controversial proposal to exempt small businesses from HACCP rules.

Excluding food businesses from employing fewer than 10 people was intended to reduce regulatory burdens, but the move attracted criticism from a number of countries.

In the UK, the proposal has united the industry, the Food Standards Agency and consumer groups in their opposition to it.

The FSA warned that food produced by UK companies employing fewer than 10 people was responsible for more than 60% of the food poisoning outbreaks between 2000 and 2005.

The EU council of ministers has now said any change to the regulations should be delayed until 2009, when a full review of HACCP has been scheduled to take place.

The Food and Drink Federation said it was pleased with the decision, but warned the proposal remained live in the EU parliament for now.

"We hope the Council of Ministers' proposal will be taken on board and no further moves will be made until the full review in 2009," said a spokeswoman.

The FSA also welcomed the news and said any eventual changes to HACCP rules should be based on the level of risk presented by a business rather than its size.

"A broad range of stakeholders, consumers, enforcers and the industry had voiced concerns about the proposal," said an FSA spokeswoman.

"We want a solution that better reflects risk to public health."