Joan Collins THE secretary general for Agriculture, Jose Carles Torrens, yesterday sent a “calming message” to Balearic society with regard to the latest cases of bird flu which have appeared in Bulgaria, Italy and Greece. He remarked that the results of all tests made in the Balearics since last October had been negative. However, Spain's agriculture minister Elena Espinosa admitted yesterday that it would be “easy” for birds with the virus to reach Spain from Nigeria. However, she stressed that the government was fully prepared for action. Between last October and January 15, the Balearic Government had taken a total of 235 blood samples from both wild and farm birds in different parts of the islands. These samples had all proved negative after being analysed in Madrid for the H5N1 virus, which is known to be the origin of bird flu. The preventative measures for the detection of this illness in the Balearics will remain in place until May 31, when all migratory birds will have passed through the islands on their way back to their natural habitats. The arrival of bird flu in the European Union prompted governments across the region yesterdy to bolster their defences against the deadly H5N1 virus as farmers braced for a plunge in poultry consumption. Italy, Greece and Bulgaria reported their first cases of the virus that has now also spread from Asia to Africa, killed around 90 people and led to the destruction of millions of birds. With the discovery of the disease in Nigeria, Europe's governments had focused on the threat from returning migratory birds in the spring, but the new cases have added an extra urgency. In Rome, farmers group Coldiretti said poultry sales had plunged more than 50 percent after the news at the weekend. “The knee-jerk reaction of the market resulted in a fall of more than 50 percent in the consumption of chicken meat, which risks wrecking the poultry sector,” it said. Another Italian farm group, CIA, said losses for the industry due to bird flu fears could top one billion euros. In France, the farm minister urgently asked national food agency AFSSA for advice in light of the latest developments. Dominique Bussereau said the law ordering poultry to be kept inside, currently applicable in 58 of the country's 96 departments, could soon be extended to the whole of the country. And German authorities may bring forward their ban on keeping poultry outside due to start on March 1. Farm Minister Horst Seehofer was also considering a ban on poultry markets. In Spain, authorities were reviewing their controls yesterday and as far away as Sweden, the agriculture board said testing for the virus would soon be stepped up to more areas. In Bulgaria, wetlands where infected birds have been found were cordoned off and people warned over contact with waterfowl. The country's chief vet Zheko Baichev said his teams were prepared to cull birds and cut off villages if the deadly disease jumped to domestic birds. Large signs reading “Danger from bird flu” and “Infected Zone” were installed over the weekend at the two Black Sea lakes near the Romanian border where H5 infected swans have been found. The lakes have been quarantined and veterinarians said stray dogs and wild foxes will be killed if seen there.