Conservative MEP Anthea McIntyre has headed off an attempt to slap an immediate ban on British undertakers from the traditional practice of embalming bodies.

Miss McIntyre, MEP for the West Midlands and Conservative Employment Spokesman in the European Parliament, intervened over concerns from the UK funeral industry that new rules on workplace exposure to carcinogens and mutagens would mean an immediate end to the use of embalming fluid to preserve cadavers.

Currently in more than half of British funerals, families ask undertakers for the body of their loved one to undergo some form of embalming, often when they wish to see them in repose. The practice is not so frequent in other parts of Europe.

British funeral directors were concerned that new EU exposure limits for formaldehyde - the key ingredient in embalming fluid - would mean an end to traditional embalming before any replacement products could be developed.

Now Miss McIntyre has persuaded fellow MEPs to grant the funeral industry an exceptional three-year delay in implementation so that proposed new methods and materials can be tested and introduced. The parliament's Employment Committee accepted her compromise in a vote in Brussels

She said: "Many British families choose to visit a funeral parlour to see their loved ones after they have died. It is part of the grieving process and often provides great comfort. Embalming ensures that they have the reassurance of seeing the deceased as they remember them.

"The truth is that lower effective concentrations of embalming fluid and better ventilation have been keeping exposure of workers to formaldehyde fumes lower and lower in Britain as time goes on. It is safer than it has ever been.

"This new legislation is well meant, but I don't think official in Brussels realised quite how big the impact would be on Britain. I am thankful that colleagues have allowed this extended implementation and avoided an immediate ban."