Photos: © Animal Welfare Foundation
Freiburg-Zurich-Brussels, 29.8.2018: For about 35 years, blood has been taken from pregnant mares in Uruguay and Argentina to extract the hormone PMSG, also called eCG. The hormone is used in industrial animal breeding in Europe to stimulate and synchronize the oestrus of pigs, sheep and other farm animals to help encourage greater production of livestock. While importers such as European pharmaceutical companies like Ceva and IDT Biologika have recently announced they will stop sourcing PMSG from Latin-American blood farms, Hipra from Spain and Zoetis from Italy are still importing the hormones from South America. Both companies sell their products in several EU countries, including Germany. New investigations by the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF), Germany, and Tierschutzbund Zürich (TSB Zürich) show that the conditions of production for the mares have not improved since this cruelty was first exposed in 2015. The mares are still systematically tortured; they are “ruthlessly driven into restraint boxes and blood is extracted in as short a time as possible, which has nothing to do with a humane approach to the animal”, says Dr. Axel Wehrend, professor for reproductive medicine at the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen, Germany, when commenting on the footage of the recent investigations from January and April 2018.
Four Uruguayan and one Argentinian blood farm keep at least 10,000 mares. Their blood is extracted between the 40th and 120th day of pregnancy. So that this can be done twice a year, the pregnancy of the mares is interrupted after the 100th day. In Argentina the abortions are now done by injection, while in Uruguay they do them manually by puncturing the foetal membranes. Thus every year, more than 20,000 foals become victims of this hormone production for the European meat and milk industry. The blood extractions take place twice a year over a period of 11 to 12 weeks. During this time, up to 25 % of their total blood volume is tapped from the pregnant mares every week. About 30% of the mares die per year due to this blood extraction. “When they no longer become pregnant and are still alive, the blood farmers sell them to an EU approved slaughterhouse and their meat ends up on European plates. However, many mares also die from weakness or as a consequence of the abortions. We count their carcasses year after year on the pastures of the blood farms”, reports Sabrina Gurtner, project manager of the Animal Welfare Foundation.
While the importing pharmaceutical companies claimed that they would improve the situation through animal welfare provisions and audits, the investigations of AWF reveal massive animal cruelty remains. Furthermore, the interest of the blood farmers in keeping their mares in healthy condition is small. In a scientific study of Sandra Wilsher from 2011, the two blood farmers Martin Bocking and Gabriel Maruri are quoted that the level of PMSG in the blood is higher when the mares are in a poorer physical condition. “These mares are not skinny, they are morbidly emaciated”, describes Dr. Axel Wehrend on the condition of the mares. The investigations of AWF and TSB Zürich have been summarized in a film, which shows images of blood extraction and of mares in forest pastures belonging to the blood farms. “After three years of close observation on the ground it becomes clear that the methods of abuse have changed, that the brutality has rather increased compared to 2015”, says York Ditfurth, chairman of AWF. While footage from 2015 showed how mares were hit with wooden boards on their heads until they apathetically stood still, today they are beaten with iron hooks and wooden sticks and violence is systematically applied against the female genitals. “This is highly unprofessional and cruel as coercive measures are used on the animals. With iron hooks, beating to the head, with ropes, with leashes, with the deliberate inflicting of pain to the outer genitals, all of it is unforgivable”, criticizes Dr. Axel Wehrend.
The AWF investigations prove furthermore that even seriously injured mares are not taken out of the blood extraction process. “Mares with a broken leg are driven through the process with brute force”, describes Sabrina Gurtner on the situation in the South American blood farms. It is also documented by the investigations how blood farmers try to conceal their business from control and public view. Thus, the company Syntex in Argentina has removed their company signs, built walls around the blood extraction building, hired security guards with dogs, and installed cameras, light sensors and radar monitoring.
“The pharmaceutical companies trust in the statements of the local authorities and government bodies and forget that, for example, the veterinary authority in Argentina was found guilty in many cases for corruption and involvement in illegal trade with horses. They disregard that the Uruguayan state subsidised at least one blood farm and has an interest that it generates foreign currency”, explains York Ditfurth. 100 grams of PMSG powder are worth about one million dollars. Customs documents show that the blood farm Syntex Uruguay alone sends one or two shipments of PMSG worth up to two million dollars to Europe each month.
The publication of the first investigations in 2015 led the US pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp and Dohme (MSD) to stop the import of PMSG from South America. In July 2018, the German company IDT Biologika followed and thereby pre-empted a publication of the new investigations in the ARD programme FAKT on 17th July 2018. On 3rd August 2018, the French pharmaceutical company Ceva stopped the import from South America as well. AWF, TSB Zürich and Eurogroup For Animals call on the companies Hipra and Zoetis to also cease the import of the torture hormone PMSG from South America. “It is completely incomprehensible how these companies, which are dedicated to animal health, are willing to systematically torture horses to death to make their product”, says York Ditfurth.
Project Manager AWF|TSB
Phone: +41 44 482 04 92