Warning over environmental contamination by vet drug

Spanish imperial eagle
The Spanish imperial eagle, a threatened species of eagle that only occurs in central and south-west Spain, adjacent areas of Portugal and possibly northern Morocco. © Antonio Lucio Carrasco Gómez

A prohibition on the use of the analgesic drug diclofenac in veterinary medicine in Europe has been recommended by Spanish scientists following a study into the mortality of avian scavengers.

Diclofenac is commonly used topically in horses for conditions such as arthritis.

The scientists involved in the study, led by Professor Antoni Margalida of the University of Lleida, highlight the need for programmes similar to those proposed for drugs used on humans and in cosmetics.

The authors of the study, including Professor José Antonio Sánchez Zapata of the Department of Ecology at the University Miguel Hernández of Elche, point out that Spain has recently authorized the veterinary use of diclofenac, a drug that caused mass mortality of vultures in Pakistan, India and Nepal in the 1990s. This compound causes kidney failure and death in these carrion birds which, researchers remind, provide a crucial environmental service by recycling nutrients and controlling diseases and pests. Spain hosts about 95% of the population of vultures of the European Union as well as the entire population of Spanish imperial eagle.

Birdlife International says vultures and eagles eating cattle treated with a veterinary dose ofdiclofenac will die in less than two days.

Scientists suggest a dialogue between the social sectors to reduce environmental pollution and raise public awareness about the effects of the production, use and disposal of drugs of veterinary use. They also demand an active response of the scientific community, the pharmaceutical industry, food industry and the general public worldwide.

The study was recently published in the journal Science.

One Health approach to use of veterinary pharmaceuticals. A. Margalida, G. Bogliani, C. G. R. Bowden, J. A. Donázar, F. Genero, M. Gilbert, W. B. Karesh, R. Kock, J. Lubroth, X. Manteca, V. Naidoo, A. Neimanis, J. A. Sánchez-Zapata, M. A. Taggart, J. Vaarten, L. Yon, T. Kuiken, R. E. Green. DOI: 10.1126/science.1260260


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