The European Commission has approved the payment of €67.1m by the Italian government, to help the Sardinian sheep-meat sector recover from an outbreak of Blue Tongue disease, (ovine catarrhal fever), that swept the island last year. Producers were hit by movement restrictions, additional feed costs and slaughtering orders.

However, Brussels has launched a detailed investigation into plans to pay €2.6m to processing companies affected by the problem, and has temporarily refused to clear the aid, claiming that there was not a clear enough link between the outbreak and the financial harm suffered by the processors.

By Keith Nuthall, correspondent