Sanitary versus environmental policies: fitting together two pieces of the puzzle of European vulture conservation.
Between 1996 and 2000 the appearance of bovine spongiform encephalopathy swiftly became one of the most serious public health and political crises concerning food safety ever experienced in the European Union (EU). Subsequent sanitary regulations led to profound changes in the management of livestock carcasses (i.e. the industrial destruction of around 80% of all animal carcasses), thereby threatening the last remaining healthy scavenger populations of the Old World and thus contradicting the long-term environmental policies of the EU. Several warning signs such as a decrease in breeding success, an apparent increase in mortality in young age classes of vultures and an increase in the number of cases of vultures attacking and killing cattle, as well as a halt in population growth, suggest that the decrease in the availability of food resources has had harmful effects on vulture populations. Between 2002 and 2005, a number of dispositions to the EU regulations (2003/322/CE 2005/830/CE) enabled conservation managers to adopt rapid solutions (i.e. the creation of vulture restaurants) aimed at satisfying the food requirements of vultures. However, these conservation measures may seriously modify habitat quality and have indirect detrimental effects on avian scavenger populations and communities. Synthesis and applications. Conservation managers and policy-makers need to balance the demands of public health protection and the long-term conservation of biodiversity. The regulations concerning carrion provisioning need to be more flexible and there needs to be greater compatibility between sanitary and environmental policies. We advocate policies that authorize the abandonment of livestock carcasses and favours populations of wild herbivores to help to maintain populations of avian scavengers. Conservation strategies should be incorporated into new European Commission regulations, which should be effective in 2011.