(CBS SF) — A U.S. advisory panel recommended Thursday to partially lift a 31-year ban preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

The current ban applies to any potential male blood donor who had sex with another man since 1977 when the country’s AIDS epidemic took off.

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But groups like the American Red Cross say the risk of HIV transmission is so infinitesimal that it does not justify a full ban and instead prevents much-needed donations.

After hearing testimony from critics of the lifetime ban Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Service’s Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability voted 16-2 in support of allowing men who have had sex with other men to give blood after being abstinent for one year, Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

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Although the FDA does not have to follow the panel’s advice, a spokeswoman for the agency said “the meeting provided valuable information and perspectives that will help inform the FDA’s deliberations.”

Their recommendation will be heard by a group of advisors to the FDA in a Dec. 2 meeting

The U.K, Australia and Canada have revised their policies in recent years to allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood after so many years of abstinence from same-sex encounters.

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