Members of the European Parliament have called for a "common-sense" easing of "complicated" spot-checks on food industry suppliers, required for the payment of EU subsidies.

The checks include the monitoring of food health standards, livestock welfare and environmental production controls.

A motion tabled in parliament said that the measures have "proved very complicated to manage", especially for local regulators and small-scale farmers, since they were introduced in 2003.

MEPs said such spot-checks should be relaxed - even if it meant controls were loosened. Irish Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness said: "The level of farm inspections is excessive and very unwelcome on farms that are active and busy."

Independent Northern Ireland Unionist MEP Jim Allister complained of "disproportionate penalties for minor offences and no-notice inspections". He added: "The sanctions imposed are too often, for the struggling farmer, almost crippling."

The parliament backed a European Commission plan that allows member states to overlook small infringements, such as failures to register and ear-tag livestock, which is required to trace disease outbreaks such as BSE.

MEPs also want subsidy spot-check systems reassessed every two years.