Estrogen therapy fills horsemeat slaughterhouses

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1993:

BRANDON, Manitoba––Two new reports from
the Canadian Farm Animal Care Trust affirm that the fast-
growing estrogen drug market is driving the equally fast
expanding Canadian horsemeat export trade––as ANIMAL
PEOPLE reported in April, based in part on earlier CAN-
FACT publications.
The Manitoba Animal Rights Coalition is asking
other animal protection groups to join it in an international
campaign to publicize the source of the increasingly popular
“natural” estrogen replacement drug Premarine: PMU, the
urine of catheterized pregnant mares, who are kept standing
in barns from September to April of each year. This is the
peak period for equine estrogen yield, coming in the fourth
through tenth months of the mares’ 11-month gestation
cycle. Draft breeds are preferred because of their placid
nature and greater capacity for producing urine.

CANFACT founder Tom Hughes once again gave
the Manitoba-based PMU industry good marks for equine
care in his second annual report on personal inspections of
PMU farms. “Discounting the philosophical or moral ques-
tion of whether mares should be used to produce urine for
estrogen,” he declared, “the fact remains that the mares
used for this purpose receive a standard of care which is
probably better on average than the care provided for many
privately owned riding horses.”
But Hughes, who was instrumental in shutting
down the PMU industry in Ontario circa 1970 due to wide-
spread horse abuse, was less sanguine about the fate of the
foals who are bred to stimulate the mares’ estrogen output.
“There is no doubt that the horse is now a farm
spread horse abuse, was less sanguine about the fate of the
foals who are bred to stimulate the mares’ estrogen output.
“There is no doubt that the horse is now a farm
animal raised for meat,” Hughes wrote in the 1993 CAN-
FACT annual report. “The best statistics we could obtain
from the federal Department of Agriculture indicate that
approximately 160,000 horses are imported each year to
Canada from the United States to be slaughtered for human
consumption. In addition, there are probably 75,000 foals
produced annually by PMU farms.” These foals, Hughes
continued, “are sold at the average age of 120 days to be
reared in feed lots. When these animals reach meat weight
they are sold and slaughtered.” Adding in an unknown but
considerable number of surplus thoroughbreds, standard-
breds, and pleasure horses, together with “an unknown
number of wild horses who are taken from the ranges of
western Canada, often by cruel and inhumane methods,”
Hughes believes, “It would not be unreasonable to suggest
that between 300,000 and 400,000 horses a year are killed in
Canada for human consumption.”
Although more horses go to slaughter from other sources,
the plentiful and predictable supply of foals from PMU
farms tends to stabilize the industry pricing structure, and
thereforekeeps it profitable.
The horse killing plants are located in Lethbridge,
Alberta; Owen Sound, Ontario; and Laval, Quebec.
“From observations in those plants,” Hughes’ annual report
continued, “we know that the horses are killed by shooting,
and this method is considered reasonably humane.”
However, Hughes noted, “The horses suffer a considerable
amount of distress in the final moments leading up to
slaughter. It is hard to know how to eliminate this suffering,
given the fact that horses are sensitive creatures who
undoubtedly become aware that something very, very wrong
is going to happen to them. Perhaps the design of the build-
ings is at fault. Perhaps the production line technique is at
fault Perhaps there should be a greater time lag between one
horse and the next. It is hard for a horse not to be aware that
something is wrong when a horse six feet away, in a chute,
is shot.”
Since virtually all the horsemeat for human con-
sumption is flown to Europe and Japan, the horsemeat
industry is not directly vulnerable to domestic consumer
pressure. But the supply of foals born to PMU-producing
mares could be diminished if women taking natural estro-
gen, either in birth control pills or to control the effects of
aging, could be persuaded to switch to readily available
synthetic substitutes. That’s the goal of MARC.
“Since approximately 60% of the PMU farms and
the Ayerst Organics plant which collects estrogen from the
urine––the only such plant in the world––are in Manitoba,”
Krista Walters of MARC recently wrote to potential allies,
“MARC feels the efforts of all of us should be headquartered
here in Winnipeg. This means the MARC office would be
the clearing house for information and the centre for
researching this growing industry.” According to Walters,
MARC is already networking with women’s groups and with
Manitoba Member of the Legislative Assembly Marianne
Cerilli, who in February produced a report criticizing the
use of $20 million in federal and provincial job creation
funds to subsidize the expansion of the Ayerst plant at
Brandon, Manitoba, in anticipation of booming Premarine
sales as women of the Baby Boom generation reach
menopause. Walters also claimed to have “begun consulta-
tions with a former PMU farm employee who has document-
ed the deaths of seven mares on a Manitoba farm.”
Ayerst expects to be contracting with 600 PMU
farmers by the end of this year, up from 300 in 1991. There
are 485 PMU farms on line now, 476 of them in Canada.
(CANFACT may be reached at Box 1221, Barrie,
Ontario L4M 6J5; 705-725-1504. MARC is at 15-222
Osborne St. South, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3L 1Z3.)
––Merritt Clifton
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