In 2013, the US pharmaceutical giant Merck (MSD) decided to shift the production of the hormone Pregnant Mare Serum Gonadotropin (PMSG) from the Netherlands to South America. PMSG is extracted from the blood of pregnant mares. At the beginning of 2017, MSD ceased importing from South America. Reports of the German NGO Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) had shown that in Uruguay and Argentina thousands of mares are systematically tortured for the blood business. European pharmaceutical companies like the German IDT Biologika, the French CEVA or the Spanish HIPRA continue to supply millions of doses to the European piglet producers. With PMSG the production of piglets can be coordinated on an industrial scale. The hormone makes the mother sows come into heat at the same time, and the deliveries can take place synchronously within a few hours. Since spring 2016, European animal welfare organisations, the EU Parliament and the German Conference of Agriculture Ministers have been unanimously demanding that the production of this hormone comply with European animal welfare standards or that an import ban be imposed.
„The EU Commission and the German Federal Ministry for food and agriculture (BMEL) must act and issue an import ban for PMSG from South America, especially as there are synthetic alternatives available,” says Sabrina Gurtner, project manager of AWF. Since March 2016, an amendment adopted by the European Parliament concerning the import of PMSG has been on the table at the EU Council. Since then, 1.7 million signatories of an AVAAZ online petition have been calling on the Council to ban its import. „While the largest pharma company has stopped these
imports from torturous production methods and foregoes a business worth millions, the EU Council and the EU Commission let the blood business continue by inaction,” says Sabrina Gurtner.
In Switzerland, the associations of veterinarians and pig breeders have called on their members to stop using PMSG. Since then, its use has decreased by more than 80 percent.
The blood business with Europe exists for more than 30 years. As a reaction to the criticism from Europe, in June 2017 the Uruguayan government published their first manual in an aim to regulate the blood business and the treatment of the blood mares. „The manual mainly sets out recommendations rather than binding laws. Thus, there is no legal limit for the blood volume that can be taken. The frequency of blood collections and of inspections of the mares is not regulated. They continue to be left to fend for themselves in vast forest pastures. Foals, systematically aborted as part of the process of creating PMSG, are still permitted to be aborted until the 105 th day of pregnancy, which corresponds to existing practice”, explains Sabrina Gurtner. All of this contradicts EU animal welfare standards. In Germany for example it is not allowed to draw blood from a pregnant mare. The AWF, based in Frankfurt am Main, has repeatedly visited the five blood farms in Uruguay and Argentina since 2015, most recently in spring 2017. Only three of the five establishments have an approval for the export to the EU of animal by-products. The blood farm company Syntex Uruguay SA is not to be found on any EU list. And yet Syntex is the largest exporter of PMSG. Customs documents show that in the period from January to May 2017 the companies Syntex Argentina and Syntex Uruguay exported to the EU a total of 1.3 kilograms of PMSG in the value of about 10 million US Dollars.
In Germany alone, at least 1.3 million doses of PMSG are injected per year. One side effect of PMSG is superovulation, with the consequence that often more piglets are born than the mother sow can feed. The surplus animals are usually killed or starve.
Click here to watch the documentary investigation “The Blood Business”
Sabrina Gurtner, Project Manager
Mobile: +41 79 539 19 21