REPORT FROM THE PREMARIN FRONT by Robin Duxbury, president, Project Equus

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1997:

In early September United
Animal Nations sent me, Project
Equus PMU campaign coordinator
Jeri Meacham, and new UAN program
director Janet Hendrickson to
Manitoba to investigate the plight of
PMU mares and their foals.
exposed in April 1993, touching off
an ongoing international boycott of
the estrogen supplement Premarin,
PMU, short for pregnant mares’
urine, is produced by mares who
spend about two-thirds of each year
confined to their stalls, strapped to
collection cups, to produce the pregnant
mares’ urine that is the source
of the estrogen used in Premarin.

Worth an estimated $1 billion a year,
the PMU industry centers on
Brandon, Manitoba, where Ayerst
Organic Canada operates a plant that
concentrates the liquid urine into a
more easily transported dry powder.
I decided to take the
straightforward approach, and introduced
myself to a number of PMU
ranchers at the three different auction
houses I went to. Most didn’t
want to discuss their business, but
the few who did admitted that every
spring, as result of having to keep
their production-line mares pregnant,
they have far more foals than they
can use. The PMU ranchers seem to
keep only a handful of their very
best fillies as eventual pee-line
replacements. They may also keep a
few other horses for sale through private
consignment. Otherwise, they
unload their surplus horses at auctions,
which are literally all over
western Canada. Norm Luba of the
North American Equine Ranching
Information Council, a PMU industry
front group, claims only 15% of
the PMU foals are sold to killer-buyers,
but Ayerst Organics Canada
acknowledges that the actual figure
sold to slaughter is circa 65%.
The auction traffic
includes not only foals, but also
exhausted mares who will not be
bred again and stallions who are no
longer productive. As with other
companion animals, there are more
horses than people who want them.
Thus the vast majority of the foals
are sold in lots, as livestock. Lot
sizes ranged from three foals to 40.
Outfitters from dude ranches bid on
some of the medium lots, but the
primary interest came from killerbuyers.
Only killer-buyers bid on
the large lots.
According to the latest and
most reliable statistics, there are 482
urine collection farms, with an
average of 108 mares per farm on
line each winter. If each pregnancy
went full term, 52,056 foals would
be born each spring––a 24% decline
since PMU production peaked in
1994. But intensively managed
mare herds seem to have very high
rates of foal mortality. The
Canadian Veterinary Journal reported
in February 1996 that in one herd
of 415 PMU mares, foal mortality
was 67% during the first week following
birth, with 45% mortality
during the second week.
I have always opposed the
early weaning of foals, standard in
the PMU industry, and what I saw
at the auctions in Verdin, Winnipeg
and Gladstone only confirmed my
opposition. Four-month-old foals
dangle between learning how to
graze and their natural instinct to
nurse. At least half the foals I saw
were desperately trying to nurse off
each other.
Pat Houd (pronounced
“Hood”) may very well be the
largest horse dealer in the area where
we were. He was at all three auctions,
and left each one with at least
200 foals and a few adult horses. A
classic horse dealer, Houd sells to
slaughterhouses, sells at auctions
and sells to private individuals. No
matter who you are, if you want a
horse or horses, he will sell to you.
We drove by his feedlot
just outside Elk Creek. He has
round bales of straw stacked around
his fences to conceal his operation.
He reportedly did this a number of
years ago because so many activists
and reporters were hassling him. He
or someone who works for him is
said to have chased a CBS news
crew away in a truck. The same
thing happened to us, but we did get
some photos and video footage.
The three auctions we
observed cater to the killer-buyers.
Other people who might want to buy
horses must sit behind the killerbuyers,
who enjoy front row seats
with tables and telephones. Each
time a killer-buyer placed a successful
bid, he made a telephone call. I
presume the calls were made to a
livestock transporter, slaughterhouse,
or someone else involved in
the horse industry. I asked one guy
what the phones were for, but he
brushed me off.
When someone other than
a killer/dealer bid on individual
horses, Houd would always turn
around to see who was bidding
against him, and deliberately up the
bid. It was clear that he didn’t like
it, regardless of whether it was
someone from a horse rescue group
or a local farmer.
The foals and even adult
horses are transported in the doubledecker
cattle trucks, and may spend
an entire day in the them waiting to
be auctioned, or to be shipped to
another auction or feedlot. My
video footage of about 20 foals in
one truck is heartbreaking. As they
struggled to look out the small holes
in the truck, their tiny little whinnies
were those of babies crying.
We were unable to walk
through any PMU barns. There
would not have been much to see
anyhow, as the mares are not
brought inside until mid-October.
However, we got lost while trying
to find the infamous urine waste
lagoons. We stopped at a farm to
get directions, and lo and behold, it
was a PMU farm! Janet got out of
the car to ask for directions, while I
sat in the back and videotaped a big
pile of urine collection cups sitting
right in the driveway. There was a
barn on the property with its door
open. It was old and dark, and
probably more representative of
PMU barns than the half dozen or so
Wyeth-Ayerst and NAERIC showcase
to the public.
A description of the PMU
industry would not be complete
without mention of the horrendous
pollution associated with it. I took
the opportunity to interview Bill
Paton, Ph.D., of Brandon University,
about the volume of ammonia
Ayerst Organics Canada contributes
to the Assiniboine River, the primary
water source for the city of
Brandon. Paton and his students
have documented extraordinary
ammonia levels near the sewage
lagoons just outside Brandon, where
Wyeth-Ayrst dumps the waste left
after the PMU is concentrated.
There is no question that
Paton’s work threatens the PMU
industry. At one point the Manitoba
minister of agriculture wrote to the
university president, demanding that
Paton be dismissed, but much to its
credit, the university has stood
behind him.
I videotaped the lagoons.
Jeri, Janet and I stayed longer than
we should have. We left with
headaches, sore throats and one
bloody nose. The stench reminded
me of a “dead” beach. Paton told us
afterward that we were there at the
“good” time of the year. In spring,
he said, he and his assistants wear
gas masks.
Ayerst Organics Canada
used to be based in Ontario. The
provincial government reportedly
kicked Ayerst out a number of years
ago because of the company’s methods
for disposing of urine waste,
amid criticism of the treatment of the
horses. Ayerst relocated to
Manitoba, a province with fewer
environmental controls than Ontario
and less evident humane sensitivity.
Ironically, while Ayerst
has enormous political clout as the
maker of the drug reputed to be the
most prescribed and most lucrative
on the market, and Canada’s most
profitable manufactured product, it
is not a major employer in Brandon.
As it turns out, Ayerst Organics
Canada directly employs only about
two dozen people, of whom about
half may be security guards.
Concentrating the urine does not
require a lot of personnel, just a lot
of expensive equipment.
I hope through the combined
and individual efforts of
humane and activist organizations,
that we can reach the next generation
of women that Wyeth-Ayerst is
preparing to target: Baby Boomers.

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