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The VCF and four other European nature conservation organizations call for a ban on veterinary diclofenac, a drug that kills vultures

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The Vulture Conservation Foundation, SEO/BirdLife, SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal), BirdLife Europe and WWF are re-launching a campaign to ban veterinary diclofenac in Europe – in particular in Spain, Italy and Portugal, the three European Union countries where most of the continent’s vultures live. This anti-inflammatory drug, harmless to humans, can potentially kill vultures and its use is unnecessary, since there are equally effective veterinary alternatives.

The new campaign, featuring a dedicated web site and a petition campaign calling for citizen support (http://www.banvetdiclofenac.com/en/home/) brings together all updated information on the approval, commercialization and risks posed by vet diclofenac in Europe as well as a clear appeal and message for civil society to mobilise and protect Europe’s vultures. Together with the communication tools, the VCF and other organisations are implementing specific policy and advocacy action at both national and EU level (from veterinary groups and farmer associations to municipalities, regional governments and the European Commission) to try to secure a decision to ban veterinary diclofenac.

Vultures may be exposed to the drug by feeding on the carcasses of animals which have previously been treated with this veterinary drug. Its pernicious effect on vultures has been extensively documented on the Indian subcontinent, where the presence of diclofenac in only 1% of the carcasses of abandoned cows in the field led to the near extinction – a 99% decline – of five species of Vultures. Its use is now banned in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Iran and Pakistan, and this has slowed the decline of vultures there.

Despite this catastrophe, the veterinary use of diclofenac is permitted both by the European Union and by the national governments of Spain and Italy. In Portugal, the authorities are assessing a request for a permit. In 2014, and triggered by an earlier campaign, the EU´s own European Medicine Agency “confirmed that vultures and other necrophagous birds in the European Union may be at risk due to residues of diclofenac if they feed on carcasses of animals that have been treated with this medicine”, and described the two scenarios where this is possible.

The EMA considered a wide range of risk management measures and discussed their practicalities and impact. The EMA “was not in a position to evaluate the effectiveness of all of the proposed measures as several of them cannot be quantified at present or do not fall within the remit of the CVMP. Therefore, it was not possible to make a recommendation at this stage on which of them would be most appropriate. In conclusion, the Committee is of the opinion that additional risk management measures are needed and efforts should focus on determining the most suitable and effective ones to ensure that contaminated carcasses do not end up in the food chain of vultures and other necrophagous birds”.

The EU thus deferred to member countries to come up with their own national actions plans – but since then little has happened. Prohibiting the veterinary use of diclofenac is the only common-sense decision. The precautionary principle – which requires avoiding unnecessary risks – should govern all environmental conservation regulations in Europe. Authorizing a drug with a potential deadly effect on birds that we must protect does not seem to be a good idea.

Vultures are nature’s clean-up crew. They don’t kill, they eat the flesh of other dead animals, thus helping to reduce the spread of disease and eliminating the need for the treatment and incineration of thousands of tons of animal remains every year, saving us millions of euros in waste management and potential emissions of hundreds of thousands of tons of C02 per year.

Yet they are one of the most threatened bird groups on the planet, with 16 of its 23 species at serious risk of extinction. Europe’s vultures are an exception -with 3 of the 4 species doing well, mostly because of the considerable conservation investment done by the EU, national and regional governments, the VCF and other conservation organisations.

The fate and survival of vultures, such critical species, will depend on the engagement, mobilization and commitment of European citizens and political leadership – so please visit http://www.banvetdiclofenac.com/en/home/  and sign the petition!

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