Charities have voiced concern over the operation of so-called blood farms in South America, which harvest blood from mares for the production of veterinary drugs.
World Horse Welfare’s chief executive, Roly Owers, said his organisation had yet to be convinced that horse welfare could ever be truly protected in the production of the hormone Pregnant Mare Serum Gonadotropin (PMSG).
His comments follow the latest revelations on the industry from Germany’s Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF), which had looked into blood farms operating in South America.
The industry in Uruguay and Argentina reportedly involves thousands of mares.
Millions of doses of PMSG are supplied to European piglet producers. The hormone makes the mother sows come into heat at the same time, meaning that deliveries can take place synchronously within a few hours.
Since spring 2016, European animal welfare organisations, the EU Parliament and the German Conference of Agriculture Ministers have been unanimously demanding that the production of this hormone comply with European animal welfare standards or that an import ban be imposed.
“The EU Commission and the German Federal Ministry for food and agriculture must act and issue an import ban for PMSG from South America, especially as there are synthetic alternatives available,” says Sabrina Gurtner, who is project manager with the AWF.
The AWF says an amendment adopted by the European Parliament concerning the import of PMSG has
been on the table at the EU Council since March 2016.
Since then, 1.7 million signatories of an online petition have been calling on the council to ban its import.
Gurtner noted that while one large pharmaceutical company had stopped these imports, others continued with the trade.
“The EU Council and the EU Commission let the blood business continue by inaction,” she said.
In Switzerland, the associations of veterinarians and pig breeders called on their members to stop using PMSG. Since then, its use has decreased by more than 80 percent.
The AWF said the “blood business” with Europe had existed for more than 30 years.
Following criticism in Europe, in June 2017 the Uruguayan government published its first manual in an aim to regulate the blood business and the treatment of the mares.
“The manual mainly sets out recommendations rather than binding laws,” Gurtner says.
“Thus, there is no legal limit for the blood volume that can be taken. The frequency of blood collections and of inspections of the mares is not regulated. They continue to be left to fend for themselves in vast forest pastures.”
She says that foals are systematically aborted as part of the process of creating PMSG, up until the 105th day of pregnancy. This, she says, contradicts EU animal welfare standards.
The AWF says it has repeatedly visited blood farms in Uruguay and Argentina since 2015, most recently in spring 2017.
She said at least 1.3 million doses of PMSG were injected per year in Germany alone.
One side effect of PMSG is said to be superovulation, with the consequence that often more piglets were born than the mother sow can feed.
The AWF is pushing for people to sign a petition opposing the trade, which at the time of writing had nearly 1.75 million signatories.
World Horse Welfare is urging its supporters to sign, pointing to the latest investigation by the AWF into the way the mares were handled.
The charity said it was disgusted and appalled at the findings in the AWF’s latest report, which it said raised serious questions as to what regulations were in place to protect the mares, how they were being enforced, and how such products could be available in Europe.
AWF’s investigation found bones and remains of horses littering vast forest pastures belonging to the blood farms visited.
World Horse Welfare’s Owers described the latest footage in a video released by the AWF as sickening to watch, saying the treatment of the horses was a complete affront to even the most basic principles of horse welfare.
“The alleged systematic, repeated manual abortions of these mares’ foals are particularly ethically reprehensible,” he said.
“The AWF’s findings raise serious questions about whether the horses are adequately protected within existing regulations around PMSG production, and whether the EU should be importing products derived from such brutality.
“That is why we are supporting this petition to European Union institutions to reconsider allowing imports of PMSG into the EU while there are such extreme concerns.
“However, even with higher standards, we remain to be convinced that horse welfare could ever be truly protected in PMSG production and if the drug is needed, more and improved synthetic alternatives have to be found or different farm animal management practices adopted.”