Italy is prepared to defy EU limits on state aid in a bid to rescue poultry farmers struggling after the country’s bird flu scare, reported the Financial Times.

Such a move could prompt other farmers in the EU to demand higher subsidies.

According to reports, poultry prices could have fallen 70% in recent days following the discovery of the deadly bird flu virus in wild swans in southern Italy.

Italian agriculture minister Gianni Alemanno told the FT he would ask Brussels to allow Rome to double subsidies earmarked for farmers left with unsold poultry. He said: “If we don’t get the (Brussels) authorisation, we will ask the government to go ahead even if it means risking EU sanctions.”

A spokesman for Mariann Fischer Boel, the EU agriculture commissioner, told the paper Italy needed to supply more information about its planned subsidy measures to establish whether they would breach EU limits, saying: “If Italy wants to give aid to the poultry sector, that is clearly state aid. So this has to be properly notified for us to see if it is in conformity with the rules.”