Spain backs Barcelona's bid to become the seat of the European Union's food safety agency and Italian speculation that Barcelona would withdraw its candidacy in favour of Parma was unfounded, a top Spanish government official said on Monday. Devastating outbreaks of mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth in livestock herds across the continent have made food safety a high-profile political issue and the decision on the location of the EU's food safety agency has become a hot potato for government leaders. EU heads of state and government are now expected to decide at their summit in the Belgian town of Laeken next month on the seat of the food safety watchdog. Helsinki, Spain's second city Barcelona, Italy's Parma and the French city of Lille have applied for the right to host it. "The government of Spain supports Barcelona 100 per cent," Fernando Perpina-Robert Peyra, an ambassador at large at the Spanish ministry of foreign affairs, told reporters in Sweden. Peyra came to Stockholm at the head of a Spanish delegation touring all EU capitals in a drive to mobilise support for Barcelona's bid. Spain will hold the rotating presidency of the 15-member union in the first half of 2002. One week ago, Italian Farm Minister Giovanni Alemanno said a new government-level agreement between Rome and Madrid had bolstered Parma's chances of being picked to host the food safety agency. Alemanno said Barcelona's candidacy might even be withdrawn. "That is absolutely false. There is no such agreement," Peyra said, noting that the foreign and agricultural ministers of Spain had continued to throw their weight behind Barcelona's candidacy.