THE Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) sent out a warning yesterday that there is a “real” risk that the bird flu, already present in Europe, could spread as far as the Balearics with wild fowl migratory journeys this spring. Although spokesmen were anxious that unnecessary panic didn't take hold, they were keen to point out how relatively little funding was available to combat the onset of the disease. The warning came after cases of the deadly H5N1 virus were detected in wild fowl in Greece and Italy. FAO Animal Health director, Samuel Jutzi, speaking at a news conference said “we cannot ignore the fact that Europe is at risk of a bird flu epidemic” when migrating birds return from their wintering grounds in Africa. Nevertheless, he emphasised that there was no need for panic to set in as Europe had excellent veterinary surgeons at its disposal. Juan Lubroth, an expert in the FAO department of Animal Health, signalled that like every other country in Europe, Spain should step up its measures to detect and combat the potentially deadly disease. Although migratory birds coming from Africa are not in the habit of stopping off in Spain, their movements are difficult to control, he added, and in theory, it's possible that some could land unpredictably in the Balearics. Jutzi was careful to explain that although sick and dead wild birds infected with the disease had been found this last weekend in Italy, “it didn't mean that the battle against bird flu had been lost”, nor that the world had come closer to a global pandemic. However, it was important, he urged, not to lower one's guard. The expert recalled the fact that it was a year ago when the FAO had warned of the bird flu risk for Africa, and now it had to do the same for Europe in the face of a “real risk”. The fight against the virus needs to be conducted on an international scale, said Jutzi, but although the problem for the moment is confined to one of animal health, everything should be done to make sure the situation doesn't become more “complicated.” He said that in order to tackle the disease effectively, there needed to be a truly positive approach at governmental level which should involve releasing as much funding as was necessary to deal responsibly with any threats to animal and human health. At the moment, of the 109 million euros which are considered essential to develop an effective “anti-bird flu campaign”, only 21.8 million have been received by the FAO, said Jutzi. From its own funding without any international support, the United Nations department has provided one million dollars to help Latin America and the Caribbean set up their own system of veterinary support in the face of the bird flu threat.