Vets across Europe hope to win an exemption from EU rules for phenylbutazone, or “bute”, one of the UK’s most commonly prescribed equine drugs.
The horse is classed as a food-producing animal, so only substances with known residue times in meat can be used on horses which might end up for human consumption.
Bute has never been tested, so just one dose means the animal must be signed out of the food chain on its passport. This threatens the continued availability of the drug.
Under an amendment adopted by the EU in July, European vets have been asked to suggest drugs “that bring an added clinical benefit compared to other treatment options” and could be added to the list of approved medications.
If agreed, bute would be allowed for use in meat-producing horses, alongside a six-month withdrawal period.
Prof Josh Slater, secretary of the Federation of European Veterinary Associations, said: “We argue that phenylbutazone has benefits over other drugs in the areas of laminitis, pain relief during surgery and certain orthopaedic conditions.”
A huge number of horses enter the food chain across the EU and drug companies need to be able to sell their products across Europe.
It costs around £40million to bring a product to the market and Prof Slater says companies are loath to spend money testing bute to EU standards when other drugs are available.
The Netherlands has already stripped bute of its licence.
Lee Hackett, head of welfare at the British Horse Society, backed these concerns.
“It is important that vets have access to bute. There are alternatives, but they are more expensive and, in some circumstances, not as effective,” he said.
Gwenda Bason from Dechra Veterinary Products said: “The clinical need for bute in the UK is obvious from our sales levels to vets and we are keen to ensure it continues to be available.”
Confirmation of whether the drug will be included in an EU consultation is expected from the European Medicines Agency in October. The final decision will be made by EU commissioners next year.
This news story was first published in H&H (24 September, ’09)