Parma ham’s complicit role in sustaining cruel blood farms


Parma ham’s complicit role in sustaining cruel blood farms

23 February 2024
Calls are growing for supermarkets to remove Parma ham from their shelves after its production was linked to the mistreatment of mares on Iceland's blood farms. At the heart of this controversy lies the extraction of equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG), also called Pregnant Mare Serum Gonadotropin (PMSG), a hormone extracted from the blood of pregnant mares.

Italian pig farmers who supply Parma ham producers use pharmaceuticals containing eCG; a hormone that improves sow fertility and stimulates and synchronises oestrus. The sows have no time to recover in between pregnancies, which leads to early slaughter. The use of eCG leads to bigger litter sizes; if the sows have more piglets than teats, surplus piglets often starve or are killed.

Until 2017, eCG used in Italy came mainly from Argentina and Uruguay. Since then, most European pharmaceutical companies have opted for Icelandic eCG following controversy about conditions on South American blood farms. 

Yet the situation in Iceland is no better: pregnant mares are crammed into pens so that up to five litres of blood can be extracted via their jugular veins every week. Previous investigations by our member Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) have revealed poor conditions on hundreds of blood farms across Iceland, where blood is drawn from an estimated 5,000 mares from the late summer to autumn every year. 

The eCG extracted from pregnant mares’ blood is exported around the world, including to EU countries (the largest importer of Icelandic eCG being Germany), to produce pharmaceuticals used on pigs in particular, as well as on sheep, cattle and goats.

The Icelandic government admitted in September 2023 that its current legal framework breached Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, and committed to correcting its failures as of November 2023.

Supermarkets should prohibit the use of eCG in their meat supply chains. If their suppliers refuse to stop using eCG, then the consequence should be to stop the import.

Sabrina Gurtner, Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF)

eCG production and use is cruel and unnecessary. There are numerous alternatives available with similar efficacy, such as simple exercise routines, optimal nutrition, lighting, contact between sows in oestrus, and contact with boars.

The EU is the main destination for Icelandic eCG and the hormone, in addition to being produced in cruel conditions, only further supports an intensive and unsustainable model of livestock farming. Eurogroup for Animals calls for an EU-wide ban on the production, import and use of eCG.

To learn more: 

Watch Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) - PMSG - the hormone of misery | Good reasons for a ban

Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) production, import and use in the EU

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