SCB's Europe section warns that Diclofenac approval threatens European vultures and eagles
June 5 2014. Vultures are nature’s most successful scavengers and provide a series of economic, ecological and cultural services. Recent good news for vulture populations in Europe resulted from the adoption of EU and national level regulations which recognized that leaving carcasses on the field was an effective action to protect vultures. But now a major threat is appearing. Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug, has been authorized for use on domestic animals in Italy and Spain, and would become soon widely available on the EU market.
Vultures are exposed to diclofenac when scavenging on livestock treated with that drug before death. The impact of diclofenac on the collapse of vulture populations in the Indian subcontinent is well documented, having contributed to 99% population decline over two decades, bringing three species close to extinction. After the ban in 2006 of the veterinary use of diclofenac in these countries, vulture population declines have slowed or stopped.
EU member states have the legal obligation to conserve vultures under the EU Birds Directive and EU Veterinary Drugs legislation. However, after decades of efforts and millions of euros invested in vulture conservation in Europe (including captive breeding and re-introduction), the introduction of diclofenac now puts these efforts in jeopardy. This is unacceptable, as there is abundant scientific evidence on the impact of this chemical on vultures, and safe alternative drugs are available.
To worsen things up, a recent study (Sharma et al. 2014, Bird Conservation International) showed that eagles are also susceptible to veterinary diclofenac, effectively increasing the potential threat level, and the risks for European biodiversity. Tests carried out on two steppe eagles found dead at a cattle carcass dump in Rajasthan, India, showing the same clinical signs of kidney failure as seen in vultures, indicated they had diclofenac residue in their tissues. The authors suggest that all the 14 eagle species in the genus Aquila are also probably susceptible to diclofenac.
Sixteen EU governments and the EU Commission have already received from national organisations a formal request to start a referral procedure to ban the drug in Europe. The Society for Conservation Biology's Europe section has also strongly recommended banning diclofenac in Europe based on its documented serious negative impact on wildlife, and has urged the EU to act immediately to this effect.
More information on this issue can be found in a recent issue of the journal Conservation Biology here.