EU concern over ‘cruel’ practice of taking blood from mares to create hormone products that increase reproduction in farmed animals
THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER | 16 May 2022
Iceland is under pressure to ban the production of a hormone extracted from pregnant horses, a practice that has been described as “cruel” and “animal abuse”.
The hormone is used by farmers across the UK and Europe to increase reproduction in pigs, cows and other female farm animals.
Pregnant Mare Serum Gonadotropin (PMSG) is extracted from pregnant horses in Iceland during the summer at “blood farms”, before being converted into powder and shipped around the world.
Animal welfare campaigners in Iceland visiting farms with the Guardian showed broken restraint boxes and enclosures covered in bite marks, which they claimed was a sign of anxious horses.
Undercover footage from farms, taken by animal welfare campaigners, also appeared to show distressed horses being hit and struggling in restraint boxes before blood was drawn using a large cannula inserted in their jugular vein.
The European Commission said it was “seriously concerned” about the treatment of horses farmed for blood, while the European parliament has called for imports of the hormone to be banned.
“I would like people to know that Iceland is actually stabbing semi-wild pregnant mares, taking their blood in extreme volumes and frequency, just to … make pigs have more pigs,” said Rósa Líf Darradóttir, a medical doctor and horse owner in Reykjavik.
In late March, an international coalition of 17 NGOs submitted a complaint against Iceland to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Surveillance Authority (ESA), which monitors compliance with European Economic Area (EEA) rules in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
The complaint accused Iceland of breaching EEA law on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes and said Icelandic authorities should ban blood collection.
Experts have also expressed concern about the amount of blood taken from horses. The pharmaceutical company Isteka, which owns or subcontracts farms, said five litres* of blood are taken from pregnant mares every week for eight consecutive weeks – around four times the amount specified on international guidelines.
The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (Mast), which granted Isteka a licence, said: “There is no indication that blood collection of five litres a week for up to eight weeks has a negative impact on the health and welfare of the mares or their foals.”
Ingunn Reynisdóttir, a veterinarian who lives in north Iceland and has worked with horses all her life, disagreed. “It’s too much [blood] and if you take too much they are trembling and have difficulty walking,” she said.
* 5 liters = 1.32086 US liquid gallons
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