MSNBC, 2004 (approx. 8 mins).
By DANIELLE TITLAND
HORSES grant us a special life, even something quite magical for little cowgirls and cowboys. However with all the love and passion in the equestrian lifestyle, every so often a story comes across my desk that I just cannot stomach.
Many of us have heard of the PMU (pregnant mare urine) horses; these horses make the main ingredient, which is “pee”, that goes into the hormone therapy family of drugs called Premarin, manufactured by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, whose animal division is Fort Dodge. These PMU horses have helped to manufacture the Premarin (Pregnant Mare Urine) drugs since the drug was first approved in 1942.
Forty-one years later, in 1983, Animal People published the first extensive article showing the atrocities behind the manufacturing of this drug. The horses who were used to make the urine needed for the Premarin family of drugs were being severely abused and neglected, and once they could no longer hold a foal they were sent to slaughter in the most inhumane ways and conditions.
All of the horses standing on “pee lines” had a foal every year; the foals who lived became a large number of discarded foals. These foals were weaned at two months and immediately sent to slaughterhouses, kill floors, or sometimes even shipped live in containers to foreign meat markets. Foals are clearly termed by the farmers as “by-products” of the industry, and are not regarded as anything of value beyond carcass value, nor anything worth putting a few more dollars into for veterinary euthanization.
The original PMU farms were located in Canada and North Dakota, almost 700 farms in total (in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s) so as to escape public eye, criticism, and action from animal rights groups. There were, and still are, no laws governing how these horses are to be treated, only a code of practice set forth that the farmers are suggested to follow. Wyeth, the actual drug manufacturer, set forth this code by creating NAERIC (North American Equine Ranching Industry Council), and Wyeth is also responsible for monitoring the farms and how they adhere to the “code of practice”. It is interesting to note that the Canadian government was flying a Wyeth flag next to their own flag back then.
Then, in 1987 the first article exposing physical investigative photos, and even a video of what was actually going on in these farms – the abuse, that atrocities, the dead and mutilated horses – was published. It appeared in the 1988 Fall/ Winter issue of Equine Times News, or ET-News. The farmers were caught on tape abusing horses for no reason, and there were horses missing limbs, hooves separating from the limbs, and so much more. America was outraged.
Even today, the horses, which have been typically draft mares or draft crosses, as they can pee up to twice as much as a regular riding horse, are lined up in stalls no bigger than a dairy cow feeding stall, or approximately a 3 1/2 x 8 foot stall. This is very little room for a 2300-pound pregnant draft mare to stand when at full term, much less move or even stretch her legs for circulation.
The mare has her head tied at one end so she cannot lie down, and on the other end she has a large urine catch (called a collection cup) tied to her with standard rope. Many times these collection cups will cause huge sores that mix with the urine, and many times the collection cup will slip and catch feces in with the urine. (There was also no regulation as to the amount of contaminants in the urine used to make the drugs, in fact the approval of the PMU drugs all state a high percentage of “unknown substances”.)
The mares are only given a small amount of water and water is also withheld on a regular basis. Water being withheld makes the hormones in their pee stronger, or more concentrated. The horses are forced to stand in this cramped stall while pregnant for six to eight months at a time. The mares are only let off the line when ready to foal. Once they successfully foal, the mares are re-bred on a “foal heat” and allowed to stay at pasture on an average of two or three months. Once the foal is weaned, it is straight back to the pee line for the mare, another six to eight months of suffering.
Many mares abort their foals early and are sent to slaughter once they are deemed as unable to carry a foal. Understandably, these horses were going to have a hard time transitioning into life as a riding horse or pet as the only contact with humans on PMU farms was regularly restrictive, inherently abusive, and overall painful.
Then in the year 2002, America found out that the Premarin drugs caused strokes, blood clots, heart attacks, heart disease, breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. The reason? Horse hormones are not meant to replace human hormones. The demand for Premarin drugs immediately plummeted by 30%, and the following year fell an additional 30%.
Now what was Wyeth to do with all these excess horses with the pee demand down 60%? What were these farmers and Wyeth going to do?
Of the thousands of horses and their respective foals being kept on these some 700 farms, many went to slaughter, some went to private individuals and some went to rescue organizations. Today the number of PMU mares peeing for Wyeth is approximately 5,600, kept on 73 contracted farms located mainly in Manitoba, Canada . These 73 farms that are on contract with Wyeth are prohibited by Wyeth to work with rescue operations. Even though the farm numbers are way down from the 1980’s, with a 95% rate of live birth today, where are these foals going? Also, it is estimated that one out of every four mares must be replaced every year, so it is very clear the only worthwhile option these farmers see is to send these horses to auctions, kill buyers, or exporters for live markets.
Here is the real issue in front of us now.
Wyeth has a new drug that has been in testing for only two years (it can take ten years to test for breast cancer), and this drug is scheduled to be approved in the second half of 2009. This drug, named APRELA, will creatively be marketed as a hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and osteoporosis drug, which will be derived from Conjugated Equine Estrogen, or in other words pregnant mare’s urine. Wyeth is putting out very selective and hard to access information on the drug, labeling it as an osteoporosis drug to side pass any publicity. Aprela is also used to treat menopausal symptoms and is made out of some of the same components as the Premarin group of drugs; the key ingredient in common is still pregnant mare’s urine – the same urine that was collected with no health standards and no regulations, and contains horse hormones that are clearly not the same as human hormones.
Compare this for one second – HRT drugs account for 2 billion dollars in sales every year globally; osteoporosis drugs account for 8.9 billion dollars in sales globally.
How will Aprela affect the PMU horses? Aprela will be increasing the demand for horse pee by four and a half times or more than it is currently.
How safe will Aprela be?
There are so many unanswered questions, and as of right now Wyeth Pharmaceuticals is not saying anything, they are deliberately keeping important information from the public. The only way to find the real answers is to let Wyeth and the PMU farmers know that WE KNOW that this new drug is made out of pregnant mare’s urine and that we want answers.
How to help? The horses have no voice so we must be their voice. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals is a superpower drug company known for brand names such as Advil, Caltrate, Centrum, Chapstick, Dimetapp, Dristan, and the list goes on. Fort Dodge makes Duvaxyn, Equest products, Meflosyl, and Turbogesic. Fort Dodge also makes a number of other products for pets and livestock, it is best to ask your veterinarian before administering any vaccines or wormers about the product manufacturer.
Wyeth will likely never go away, but the way the horses are treated can, and MUST be changed. And, with enough information we can stop the approval of Aprela. There are so many other alternatives such as cruelty free natural or synthetic drugs on the market today that there is no need to continue this 66-year ongoing catastrophe that has cost millions of healthy horses their lives, not to mentions the tens of thousands of women who have lost their healthy lives by taking Premarin drugs.
Inform your doctor, and say no to PMU-based drugs.
About the Author: A life long horse lover and owner Danielle has dedicated her time to finding solutions for the non-profit horse business, helping horses in need, and educating horse owners to ensure proper nutrition and care of horses. Dedicated to making a difference for the majestic animals that helped man found this nation, Danielle can be found in her spare time hacking out in the hills around Castle Rock, Colorado.
—- Watch MSNBC Video from 2004, The HRT Horses, featuring Dr. Ray Kellosami, Helen Meredith and Stockard Channing (approx. 8 mins).