The US could soon start importing British lamb for the first time in nearly 20 years as the UK government hopes the country will relax its current restrictions on red meat. British lamb and beef have not been served in the US since the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease, in the 1990s.
Speaking at the opening of the National Sheep Association (NSA) show in Malvern, Worcestershire, farming minister George Eustice will say US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published proposals for consultation to relax import restrictions on lamb that could generate an extra £35m ($45m) for the UK economy as British farmers will be allowed to export British lamb to the US's 300m consumers by 2017.
The 1,000-page dossier was submitted to USDA ahead of April's trade talks with US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in Washington, detailing the safety and quality of British beef.
Eustice will say: "The US decision to press ahead with proposals to lift export restrictions on British lamb is great news for our farmers who are one step closer to gaining access to the lucrative American market, worth an estimated £35m a year.
"Our world-leading food and drink industry is a key part of our nation's economic success and in addition to forging good trade deals with our European neighbours, we want to secure more export opportunities in the States as well as with our close friends in the Commonwealth and other countries around the world."
The UK's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is now liaising with UK farming industry comment for the 60-day consultation with USDA as well as the relevant US trade associations to "gain support for proposals".
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: "Increasing the number of export destinations for British sheep meat is vital for our industry, ensuring there is demand for our quality product in as many markets as possible.
BSE dates back to the 1990s
"It is very encouraging that the USA is interested in opening its doors. Lamb sales in the USA have dropped over the years, as a result of a falling domestic production base, and NSA would like to see British lamb exported and promoted to boost consumption. It could be a real opportunity for our sector."
IBTimes UK has contacted USDA for confirmation of the reports from Eustice.
The US has banned imports of British beef and lamb since a major outbreak of BSE was identified in the UK in the early 1990s., resulting in tens of thousands of cows having to be destroyed.
BSE is fatal to cows, and humans are vulnerable to contracting a similar deadly brain disease, Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), by eating meat from infected animals.