12 May 2000

Numbing drug ban

CALVES could suffer following a decision by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to ban lignocaine – the most commonly used anaesthetic for dehorning, according to a cattle vet.

Although an alternative local anaesthetic, procaine, is available Cheshire-based vet Dennis Leonard is concerned about its availability and believes the ban is petty. "This decision was taken by people in offices with no understanding of how lignocaine is used.

"Companies with alternatives are unlikely to have enough in stock to meet demand and with limited supplies, the price will go up. This creates the danger that where product is unavailable or more expensive, farmers will disbud using no anaesthetic," says Mr Leonard.

The reason given by VMD for withdrawing the product for use in food producing animals is that it has no maximum residue limit (MRL), explains National Office of Animal Health director Roger Cook.

"An MRL is the maximum amount of drug residue allowed in meat or milk for it to be declared safe for human consumption. The European Committee of Veterinary Medicinal Products says that every drug must have an MRL."

Conducting trials to establish an MRL cannot be justified on economic grounds for low value, generic drugs such as lignocaine and shouldnt be necessary in this case, believes Mr Cook.

"Lignocaine is mainly used for dehorning calves which wont be marketed for years."

Also as an anaesthetic, by its nature it is designed to depart an animals body in a few hours. The drug can be used in humans, so it seems crazy that it cant be used in calves where the possibility of residues entering the food chain is extremely remote."