Europe and Central Asia
4 Nov 2014

Is Europe closer to saving its vultures and eagles?

Egyptian Vulture © Ramon Elosegui
By Ivan Ramirez

Despite killing nearly all vultures in Asia, veterinary diclofenac was made legal in Europe in 2013. After intense campaigning by BirdLife, EU institutions are finally considering a ban. The European Medicines Agency is expected to rule on the lethal drug by November 30.

Diclofenac is a veterinary anti-inflammatory drug that kills vultures and eagles – in India it caused a 99% decline of a number of vultures species there, before eventually being banned in 4 countries in the region. Quite incredibly in 2013  veterinary diclofenac has been allowed to be used on farm animals in Europe – in Estonia, Italy and Spain for cattle, pigs and horses, and in the Czech Republic and Latvia for horses only.  The drug has been marketed by an Italian company named FATRO, and was allowed using loopholes in the EU guidelines to assess risk of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs.

Vultures are not having an easy time out there, BirdLife colleagues in Africa report unprecedented and large-scale vulture declines due to widespread poisoning and in Asia vulture populations still struggle to make a comeback from diclofenac. Meanwhile in Europe, thanks to EU funds (more than 10 million euro) and the hard work of both public and private institutions, 3 out of the 4 European vulture species are actually increasing. Of all EU countries, Spain stands out, holding more than 60% of the European vulture populations and reaching as far as 97% for some of them, as the Cinereous vulture.

BirdLife International is urging all relevant stakeholders to immediately ban veterinary diclofenac. This means dealing with EU Member States, raising the issue through our national partners, but also engaging with the company that sells the drug both in Spain and Italy (FATRO) and the European Commission. Our work now starts to deliver concrete results: we have successfully launched a dedicated web site and our hashtag #banvetdiclofenac has featured high many times on twitter and other social media; a fundraising appeal to help us stop Vulture poisoning has now exceeded our funding target, proving that our supporters do care about Vultures and want immediate action; last, but not least, our scientific data finally convinced the European Commission, that has now officially requested the European Medicines Agency (EMA) an opinion on the risks that diclofenac may pose to vulture populations.

All and each one of these chapters are the result of our grassroots work, coupled with research and solid data. As an example, BirdLife’s detailed response to EMA’s public consultation gained the support of other major international conservation organisations, such as IFAW and the WCS.

Will EMA’s final opinion (expected by 30th November 2014) mean we are finally getting closer to get vet-diclofenac out of the market? Will FATRO, in an unexpected turn, drop the commercialization of this drug and understand there is no need to risk our wildlife? Thanks to the work of our partners and supporters, BirdLife International is leading the fight against veterinary diclofenac in Europe. As our campaign progresses, we hope that our science-based work will lead us to a happy ending.

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Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.