According to the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) hormone extraction from pregnant horses “is a business worth millions, which has delivered high profits for about 40 years.”
Iceland is under growing pressure to shut down its blood farms that exploit pregnant horses.
It is one of only three countries in the world that allow farmers to extract blood from pregnant mares.
There are about 119 blood farms in the country, and more than 5000 horses from a total of 80,000 are used as ‘blood mares’.
Production of the hormone called Pregnant mare serum gonadotropin (PMSG) is a “big business” in Iceland. It has existed for around 40 years and has been growing considerably in the past decade.
The blood farming business involves extracting the hormone from pregnant mares as it is claimed to induce superovulation, produce larger litter sizes, and facilitate earlier puberty in cows, sheep and goats as well as pigs.
There is only one pharmaceutical company in Iceland trading in PMSG – Isteka ehf.
The company acquires the mares’ blood from independent farms. It is converted to PMSG powder and sold to pharmaceutical companies abroad.
According to the NGO Eurogroup for Animals, around five liters of blood is taken from pregnant horses every week in Iceland.
Furthermore, because the hormone can only be extracted during early pregnancy, the foals are aborted so that the mares can be impregnated twice a year, further adding to their suffering.
When the mares do give birth, their foals are often sent to the slaughterhouse.
Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) on its website states that “it is a business worth million, which has delivered high profits for about 40 years.”
Animal welfare concerns
While extracting blood is bad enough in itself, animal activists have also raised voices regarding the wellbeing of the mares after undercover investigations have shown distressed horses being hit and struggling in restraint boxes whilst blood was drawn using a large cannula inserted in their jugular vein.
Other pieces of evidences collected by AWF and Tierschutzbund Zürich revealed how the semi-wild horses are subjected to violence, risk numerous injuries, and suffer from repeated trauma on Icelandic blood farms.
Seeing the footage, the European Commission declared it was “seriously concerned” about the treatment of horses farmed for blood.
In March, Eurogroup for Animals, along with 16 animal protection organisations, filed a complaint with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Surveillance Authority regarding blood farms in Iceland.
They complained that Iceland does not properly apply its legislation on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes.
The European parliament has also called for a ban on PMSG import and production.
The ban is supported by Icelanders, who were by and large unaware of these cruel blood farms. When the Guardian spoke to some of the natives, they said they had little knowledge of them until last November, when the Animal Welfare Foundation undercover video was shown on television. A survey in December found most of the population opposed to the blood farms.
“I didn’t have a clue we were doing this here and I was shocked when I saw it,” Bjarnheiður Hallsdóttir, chair of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association told the news outlet.
“It [is] awful.”
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