7 August 2001
Brussels denies virus cash probe

By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

CLAIMS that Brussels has launched an investigation into UK foot-and-mouth compensation pay-outs have been denied by commission officials.

The media suggestions followed publication of a damning report by the EUs Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) into the management of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

This covered all aspects, including the slaughter of animals, the disposal of carcasses, movement controls and epidemiological testing.

On the subject of valuing slaughtered animals, the FVO concludes “it is possible that excessive payments have been made in some instances”.

“The freedom for farmers to choose a valuer and their subsequent payment on the basis of a percentage of an animals estimated value may lead to a conflict of interest,” it says.

“Discrepancies between animal numbers at the time of the initial foot-and-mouth confirmation and those presented for valuation suggest there may have been illegal movements of animals onto farms during this period.”

It recommends that “immediate action should be taken to ensure that valuation procedures are properly controlled”.

The report was presented to the UK government more than two months ago, but a commission spokesman said no further action had been taken yet.

“The report has been handed to our independent audit office, OLAF, which has contacted the UK and continues to monitor the situation.”

Meanwhile, the commission had already received the UKs first request for funds to help meet the cost of foot-and-mouth controls.

This is reported to be around Euro800 million (496m). Brussels is supposed to pay 60% of the cost involved, though this is done in “tranches”.

“If we find out later that there was over-compensation or fraud involved, we can scale back the final payment,” explained the spokesman.

Brussels would probably adopt a decision to release the first sum of money later this month.

But the commission could also launch its own investigation, with another FVO inspection visit involving more financial experts.

The spokesman added that he was not surprised by the level of compensation being paid in the UK.

“It all depends on the size of the farm and the quality of the livestock.

“If someone has three Porsches in his garage and it burns down, he will get more than I would for my rusty old Volkswagen.”

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