Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Let's ban the use of Diclofenac

I was reading the latest edition of Australian Birdlife and came across a reference to the danger of veterinary Diclofenac prescriptions - it's an anti-inflammatory and analgesic drug. The reason it's mentioned in the Birdlife magazine is that it's highly toxic to vultures.

I can imagine a scenario where a cow, having been medicated with Diclofenac, dies and its carcass attracts vultures, including the wonderful, beautiful lammergeier, the largest bird in the European Alps.

From what I've read online, I gather Diclofenac is not a usual drug for dogs in the USA. It is not approved for use in animals by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but it can be prescribed legally by vets as an 'extra-label' drug.

Here's an extract from a review of a book by Dr Tim Flannery, Here on Earth:

For many years, India’s White-rumped Vulture population was large and thriving, but from the late 1990s the number of vultures suddenly declined. So precipitous was the drop that 97% of the birds disappeared over 15 years. As they died out, the animals they once scavenged were left to rot. Cattle carcasses piled up, feral dogs increased in number and the spectre of a rabies epidemic grew. The Parsees, a religious group who place their dead on towers to be consumed by vultures, watched in horror as the bodies of loved ones accumulated and slowly decomposed.
In 2006, autopsies revealed the birds’ kidneys had been destroyed by Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug given to cattle and water buffalo. Completely inadvertently, humans had brought the vulture population to the edge of extinction. In the immensely ambitious Here on Earth: An Argument for Hope (Text Publishing, 352pp; $34.95), Tim Flannery describes the vultures and other case studies that follow this depressingly familiar plot: either through indifference or ignorance, by poisoning the environment, changing the climate or launching more straightforward hostilities, humanity has created one ecological disaster after another. Will the vultures survive? Veterinary Diclofenac was banned in India in 2006 and small groups of vultures returned. However, the drug is still sold illegally, so the birds still suffer. 
The article in Australian Birdlife has this warning:
If we believe that because there are no vultures in Australia this is someone else's problem, we need to think again - there is recent evidence that Diclofenac is toxic to aquila Eagles too.This group includes the iconic Wedge-tailed Eagle and what's more, Diclofenac is approved for veterinary use in Australia as both an anti-inflammatory for horses and available without prescription for human use. With safe and cheap alternatives to Diclofenac available - such as the anti-inflammatory Meloxicam - it is time to phase the drug out before similar consequences start occurring in our own country.

Wedge tail eagle flight Jan13
Given that aquila Eagles live all around the world, for instance the Golden Eagle, I think it's important that this drug be banned everywhere, not just in India.

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