The European Commission cleared the way Wednesday to release more EU aid to farmers hit by a slump in poultry consumption due to recent outbreaks of bird flu across Europe.
The EU may offer more aid to farmers whose fortunes have been hurt by bird flu
The European Union's executive arm offered to tap into EU funds to help EU member states support the market for eggs and poultry meat, after sales slumped by up to 70 percent in response to the health scare. So far EU aid could only be used to help farmers who have had an outbreak of avian influenza on their own property, or who cannot send the produce to market because of veterinary restrictions.
"This unprecedented situation can no longer be dealt with using the existing tools," said Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said. "That is why we want to extend the scope of the existing regulations to allow EU co-financing of special market measures."
Under the proposal, the commission would pick up half the cost of measures to help the market, hit by a drop in consumer confidence as the bird flu outbreaks spread across the EU.
In effect by April?
If member states and the European Parliament give the green light to the proposal, it could go into effect by the end of April. Then member states would have to submit proposals on aid to support the market to the commission.
Poultry sales have fallen since bird flu was detected in EU countries
"In my view, the most sensible approach would be to compensate farmers for measures which temporarily reduce production," said Fischer Boel. "I hope that the European Parliament and ... agriculture ministers will adopt this measure quickly, to allow the aid to flow as soon as possible," she added.
Commission spokesman for agriculture Michael Mann said that there "is some slack" in his department's budget that could be tapped into but declined to say how much money would be needed since that depended on how much member states asked for.
France and Italy have been leading efforts to convince Brussels to take action to calm the crisis. Following a string of first outbreaks in the EU, Italy reported a 70 percent drop in poultry sales and France saw sales fall 15 percent.
Mann said that the commission had no centralized information about poultry sales and was relying on what member states reported.