At the end of 2016, the Vulture Conservation Foundation posted on their website that “The european medicines agency (EMA) has their long-awaited technical position on the vulture-killing drug diclofenac, following a request from the European Commission.” Finally, it seems that they have confirmed “that veterinary diclofenac does represent a real risk to European vultures, and therefore recommends that a number of risk management measures should be taken to avoid the poisoning of vultures, including more regulation, veterinary controls, better labelling and information and/or a ban of the drug.”

What is being done to address the death of Europe's vultures?

The fight for the vultures has been a long and hard one.

In 2015, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) announced in a press release that member countries who are Signatories to the MOU on the Conservation of Migratory Birds Of Prey, listed more species of vultures to their annexure 1. The agreement which was discussed in Bonn was motivated by the African vulture crisis. Apart from illegal trade in the birds, poisoning is of very high concern. At that time there were 533 signatory countries, which was good news, but it did raise the question of what they are doing to address the threat to vultures and other birds of prey in Europe.

It is becoming urgent now for the European Commission to pressure Italy and Spain to get around to addressing the problem of the mass killing of vultures through the use of diclofenac in veterinary products in those countries.

India banned the use of diclofenac in 2006, following an explosive decline of vulture species across India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. The catastrophic effect of the anti-inflammatory medication on vultures that ate the flesh of dead livestock crashed the population by over 90 percent. It is taking some time, but there are reports that the populations of Indian vultures are now stabilizing.

This has been largely due to the fact that an alternative medication which is not toxic to the vultures is available and in use in India.

Outrage over Spanish sale of diclofenac for veterinary use

The crisis that affected Asian vultures was well publicized, so there was an outcry in 2013 when Spain authorized the sale of diclofenac for veterinary use.

Italy also allows the sale of the anti-inflammatory product and exports to several other European countries. Spain is of particular concern as up to 90 percent of Europe’s vultures are found in Spain.

The Society for Conservation Biology, (SCB) along with many other concerned organizations have been lobbying since 2013 for the EU to push for a ban on the product. In November 2014, Birdlife International announced that the EU was finally considering a ban on the drug. They said that the European Commission had requested an opinion from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) about the risks of the medication to vulture populations. The recent EMA’s report which everyone was waiting will hopefully make a discernible difference going forward.

On International Vultures day every year, The Vulture Conservation Fund consistently raises the concern that the European countries are not taking the threat to vultures seriously. The 2017 International Vulture Day in September will be yet another opportunity to pressure the governments about this seriously declining bird species.

Portugal and approval of the sale of vulture killing veterinary medicine

The EMA has confirmed the threat to vultures and other species of raptors through the use of this medication. Seeing that all EU member states adopted guidelines in a vital treaty through The Convention of Migratory Species in 2014 to prevent the risk of poisoning to Migratory Birds, it is appalling there has not yet been a ban on the use of this drug throughout Europe.

To add to the problem, it was revealed in February in Toledo at a convention of vulture experts and conservation managers, that Portugal is now considering approving veterinary diclofenac, against all scientific evidence and despite Portugal’s own prior commitments to resolution 11.15 Preventing Poisoning of Migratory Birds.

Countries outside of Europe such as Iran have taken the step to ban the product. It is time for Europe to stop talking and push the ban through before it is too late for vultures.