EUROPEAN FINANCIAL watchdogs have called for a revamp in the way animals are valued in the event of a major disease outbreak, urging greater harmonisation of compensation between member states.

The call comes in a report by the European Court of Auditors into the control of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001.

“Following the crisis, member states requested reimbursement of €1.6bn (£1.1bn) from the EU for compensation for farmers,” explained ECA president Juan Fabra Valles. “That cost, combined with the scale of the epidemic, was the motivation for the court’s audit.”

In its report, the court finds there were major failings in the way animals were valued, particularly in the UK. “Contracts with valuers tied their remuneration to the estimated value of the animals, risking an undue increase in values,” it says.

As such, the average compensation paid for cattle and pigs was more than twice their value, and two-and-a-half times for sheep. The court puts the total over-valuation in the UK at €812m (£568m).

In its conclusions, the court calls for a “clarification of the financial framework” to reduce the risk to the EU budget from future epidemics.

But the EU Commission has dismissed a call to harmonise national compensation systems. “The market value of animals can vary significantly from country to country, so setting compensation rates at EU level would risk over or under-compensating some farmers,” it says.

It does, however, acknowledge that there was a major problem with financial control. The four countries hit by F&M in 2001 spent a total of €2.7bn (£1.9bn) on compensation and contractors” fees, and asked that €1.6bn (£1.1bn) be covered by Brussels.

“Already it is clear that of the €1.6bn requested for compensation, the EU will only pay €475m.”