A steep drop in the number of cases of BSE in the UK could see cattle over thirty months - and born after 1996 - allowed back into the food chain.

The Food Standards Agency said it had carried out a “thorough, science-based risk assessment” and will meet this week to discuss replacing the OTM rule introduced in 1996 and which costs £360m a year to enforce. The report said it would be cheaper to introduce animal testing which would cost £60m a year.

The FSA added that the changes are being considered because of the decline of BSE in the UK over the last 10 years and the success of other BSE controls. These include the removal of specified risk material (SRM), removing over 99% of BSE infectivity that may be present in the cattle and the ban on feeding meat and bonemeal to farm animals.

Chairman of the FSA, Sir John Krebs, said: “Variant CJD is a terrible disease and in reviewing the controls the Agency has to ensure that public health is effectively protected.”