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The Newsroom: Issues : Premarin Foals

Premarin and Horse Slaughter: The Hidden Story
By Cheryl Kucsera

Article Contents

The Life for the PMU Mares
Living Byproducts of the Industry
Welcome to The World of "Price-per-Pound"
"The Last Ride"
The Final Destination
How does a horse end up in this horrible situation?
What can we do to help the PMU horses?
What can we do to help fight horse slaughter?

List of Resources

The estrogen replacement drug Premarin was introduced in 1942. Today, it is the most widely-prescribed drug for women in North America, with about 9 million American women currently taking some form of Premarin. Premarin, as well as PremPro, PremPhase and PremPac are made by Wyeth, formerly known as Wyeth-Ayerst.

While Premarin is frequently prescribed to reduce the symptoms of menopause, many of the women taking it -- and, surprisingly, many of the doctors prescribing it -- are unaware of the cruelty behind the drug.
The active ingredient of Premarin, conjugated estrogens, is obtained from the urine of pregnant mares.

A message from Ron Wilson

Thanks to my late father, a drug made from animal waste is the most widely prescribed drug in the world today. My father, Dr. Robert A. Wilson, penned the influential 1960s book "Feminine Forever," which promoted, and popularized, the idea of menopause as a disease. Menopause is a "living decay," he wrote, which often destroys a woman's "character as well as her health." He added, "The unpalatable truth must be faced that all postmenopausal women are castrates. . A man remains a man until the very end. The situation with a woman is very different. Her ovaries become inadequate relatively early in life. She is the only mammal who cannot reproduce after middle age."

My father's solution: abolish menopause altogether, through the use of estrogen drugs, and women will stay "feminine forever." The idea took. One hundred thousand copies of "Feminine Forever" were sold in its first seven months of publication, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, newspapers and women's magazines ran hundreds of articles promoting estrogen use. Doctors across the country jumped on the bandwagon, prescribing estrogen drugs for millions of women. Unfortunately, the estrogen drug that is most widely prescribed, Wyeth-Ayerst's Premarin, has a secret ingredient that my father had no trouble accepting: animal suffering.

Premarin is made from the estrogen-rich urine of pregnant horses. To collect the urine, farmers in the United States and Canada confine some 75,000 mares to tiny stalls for six months at a stretch. Some of the horses receive exercise every few weeks, but most don't see the light of day for months. The mares must also wear cumbersome urine-collection bags, which chafe their legs and prevent them from ever lying down comfortably.

Farmers are encouraged to limit horses' access to water so that their urine will yield more concentrated estrogens. A veterinarian who works on pregnant mares' urine (PMU) farms told inspectors from the United States Department of Agriculture that this practice can cause mares to suffer from "renal and liver problems."

The 70,000 foals born on PMU farms every year fare little better than their mothers. Some are used to replace exhausted mares--many of whom are forced to stand on the "pee line" for up to 20 years. But most of the foals are sent to feedlots where they are fattened, then slaughtered for meat. Claude Bouvry, Canada's leading horsemeat exporter, says the PMU industry is his "biggest source of supply." Without the overseas demand for horsemeat, Bouvry says, "there would be no market for the young horses produced by [PMU] mares."

These horses do not have to die. Synthetic and plant-based estrogen drugs are readily available, and many physicians prefer them to Premarin. Small wonder: The Food and Drug Administration cautions that "the urinary estrogen excretion by pregnant mares is widely variable." Studies have shown that the amount of estradiol--one of the active hormones in Premarin--can vary by almost 400 percent from one batch to the next. Of even more concern, some studies suggest that long-term treatment with Premarin significantly increases breast cancer risk.

Sadly, my father's contribution to medical science resulted in a prescription for animal cruelty. I encourage women of all ages to learn more about Premarin and its many alternatives.

The Life for the PMU Mares

The farms where the raw product for Premarin is produced are referred to as PMU farms (where "PMU" stands for Pregnant Mares' Urine). There are more than 500 of these PMU farms in Canada and the U.S., with between 75,000 and 80,000 mares standing on the "pee lines."
For the final six months of their eleven-month pregnancies (from October until March), the mares are confined to tiny stalls -- stalls so small that they cannot turn around, groom themselves, or lie down comfortably. They are harnessed in with urine collection pouches, fitted over their urethras, designed to collect the precious, estrogen-rich urine. These urine collection devices, and the manner by which they are attached to the mares' bodies, can cause chafing of their legs, as well as infections. These devices also make it practically impossible for the horses to lie down -- as anything beyond very limited movement would dislodge the collection device.

PMU mares get little or no exercise, with some of them actually standing in that position for the entire six to seven months. Standing for so long on cold, concrete floors results in swollen, aching legs, fatigue, and distress.

Since Wyeth pays the farmers according to the concentration of estrogen in the urine, farmers deliberately deprive the horses of water in order to produce urine with as high a concentration of estrogen as possible. This leaves the mares in a constant state of thirst. Liver and kidney disease are common in PMU mares.
While the life expectancy for most horses is well into their twenties and thirties, this is not the case for the PMU mare. Those mares who are considered to be "good producers" may find themselves standing on the "pee lines" for as long as twelve to fourteen years before they finally burn out -- at which point they will be scrapped and sent to the slaughter auctions for meat. Those mares who don't become impregnated will also find themselves being sent to the slaughter auctions.

Life for the mares on the PMU farms is so hard that 25% of them are replaced every year.

There is no official government regulation for the treatment of PMU mares, only a "Code of Practice" written by Wyeth for the PMU farmers to follow. This "Code of Practice" is voluntary, not mandatory.



Living Byproducts of the Industry

Sadly, the foals born to these mares are usually worth less than the urine their mothers produce. To the PMU farmers, they are worth more dead than alive. Just as the male calves born to dairy cows are considered to be a byproduct of the dairy industry, the foals of PMU mares are considered to be nothing more than a living byproduct of Premarin.

Some foals will die soon after birth, unable to survive the bitterly cold temperatures of the prairies. Of those who survive, the majority of them will be sent to auction where they will be sold for slaughter.

A filly foal has a less than 1-in-10 chance of not being sent to slaughter. Some will be kept to replace the worn-out mares on the PMU farms; the rest will be sent to the slaughter auction. A colt foal will have a less than 1-in-50 chance of not being sent to slaughter.

Welcome to The World of "Price-per-Pound"

At the auction, PMU foals and worn out mares will join other horses who are "unwanted" or "surplus" - most of whom will be sent to slaughter. The PMU foals are only between two and four months old when they are sent to auction. Too young to be weaned, these tiny foals can be regularly observed trying to nurse off each other. The mothers of some of the foals are here to be auctioned off as well, but once they arrive at the auction, the mares and foals will be segregated and kept in separate pens. All day long, you can hear the heartbreaking sound of separated mothers and babies calling plaintively to one another.

The tiny PMU foals are herded into the ring in lots -- sometimes with as many as 30 or 40 in a group. Without the comforting presence of their mothers, the babies, confused and consumed with fear, panic and huddle together. Regardless of how many foals there are in the ring, they are bid on and purchased as a lot (or group) with the price being determined "by the pound."

Almost all the foals are bought by "killer buyers" (middlemen for the slaughterhouses). Auction workers herd the frightened foals through the auction ring and then onto cramped trailers with canes and electric cattle prods. Shaking with terror, the babies scream for their mothers, who will never come to protect and comfort them.
It is estimated that 70,000 PMU foals are sent to auction each year -- with MOST of them going to slaughter.

Other equines at the auction include race horses who suffered injury or just weren't fast enough; miniature horses, ponies; donkeys, mules; draft horses; wild horses; stolen horses; young; old, sick and infirm; trusting companion horses and ponies whose humans lost interest or could no longer afford them, .... Many "summer camp" ponies can be found at these auctions, too, because it's cheaper to send them off to auction and purchase new ponies each year rather than pay for their upkeep during the off-season. Most of these animals will be bought by "killer buyers."

Because "killer buyers" are paid by the pound for the horses they deliver to the slaughterhouse, healthy horses, in good body condition, are preferred. The light-boned breeds that have a good proportion of meat-to-bone, such as Thoroughbreds, Saddlebreds, and Quarter Horses are especially in demand.

No matter how good, how beautiful, or how young, any horse at auction, whose bid price falls into the range that the "killer buyers" are willing to pay, is a slaughter candidate. The only thing that matters to the buyer is how many pounds of usable meat will come off the horse. "Killer buyers" will buy old and sick horses, but only when the price is low enough to make it worthwhile to transport them to the slaughterhouses.

"The Last Ride"

The cruelty of horse slaughter is not limited to the actual procedure of killing the animals. Transport to the slaughterhouse is a heart-wrenching nightmare.

The "killer buyer" travels from auction to auction, purchasing horses. His goal: to pack as many animals as possible onto the trailer. When the trailer is full, he will take the horses on their "last ride" - the one that delivers them to their final destination: the slaughterhouse.

There are only a handful of equine slaughterhouses in Canada and only two in the United States. What this means for horses is that they will have to be transported very long distances to slaughter --- usually without food, water or rest, and often in extreme cold or heat.
New Holland is a livestock auction in Pennsylvania. It's famous -- or rather, infamous -- for its horse auctions. The closest equine slaughterhouses to New Holland are nearly 600 miles away -- in Canada. While many horses purchased at New Holland will be transported to a slaughterhouse in Canada, many others will be transported to the U.S. slaughterhouses: Bel-Tex and Dallas Crown. Both of these Belgian-owned slaughterhouses are located in Texas -- and each of them is approximately 1,500 miles from New Holland, PA!

Wherever the horses are headed, their last ride will be nothing short of a living nightmare.

Many states have no real laws governing the transport of horses. This means horses are often forced onto "double decker" livestock trailers, which were not designed for horse transport. These trucks have low ceilings which means the horses can't stand up in a position that is comfortable for them or raise their heads. If a horse, an animal with a very high center of gravity, can't raise his or her head, he or she can't maintain their balance.
In addition, the manner in which horses are transported to slaughter does not accommodate their unique temperaments. The "killer buyer" will pack the trailer with a mix of horses of various temperaments, conditions, breeds, types, and ages: young and healthy; old, sick and infirm; stallions, geldings, mares, foals, pregnant mares (some of whom are very close to their due date); miniature horses, thoroughbreds, draft horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules. The forcing of stallions, mares, and foals together means fights will inevitably break out, resulting in serious injuries and deaths. If a horse is acting up, biting and kicking others, the killer buyer may wrap the horse's muzzle with duct tape or bailing wire. Often, unruly horses are deliberately blinded by gouging out their eyes or shooting them in the eyes with a BB gun.

During the trip, the flooring of the trailer becomes increasingly slippery and slimy with manure and urine. In addition, waste from the upper level rains down on animals in the lower compartment. Exhausted horses, desperately trying to maintain their footing as the trailer careens along Interstate highways, will trample the inevitable downed horses, who lost their footing hours -- and miles -- earlier. Foals, ponies, miniature horses and other small equines have been crushed to death when a larger horse has fallen on them. Pregnant mares have given birth to foals on the trailers -- while they're en route - with the helpless newborns getting trampled to death underfoot.

The Final Destination

By the time the trailer arrives at the slaughterhouse, the very long and harrowing trip has taken its toll. The horses who have managed to survive the trip are completely exhausted, starving, dying of thirst, in pain, and frightened out of their minds. Many of them will have sustained injuries -- such as broken limbs or gouged out eyes. Some of them didn't survive the trip. When the trailer is unloaded, those horses who can still walk are unloaded first. Then, a rope or chain is used to drag the dead and downed - yet still alive -- horses out of the trailer.

Contrary to what most people think, horse slaughter is NOT for pet food! Horse slaughter is for HUMAN consumption! While slaughterhouses DO sell the scraps that are unfit for human consumption to pet food manufacturers, the horse slaughter industry is a business that exists to make a profit from the sale of meat from slaughtered horses. However, horse meat isn't eaten in the U.S. So, who is eating our horses?

The horse slaughter industry in North America is strictly an export business, with the flesh of all the horses killed in U.S. and Canadian slaughterhouses being sent to Europe, Mexico and Japan, where horse flesh is considered a delicacy.

As the horses enter the slaughterhouse, they can see, hear and smell other horses who are dying and dead. This causes many of them to balk, but slaughterhouse workers use cattle prods on horses who refuse to keep moving.
A frightened mare waits in the chute that leads to the knock box. Perhaps she's one of the burned out PMU mares - or maybe she was someone's trusting companion. Whoever she is, the door to the knock box just opened and she's forced to enter. Trembling with fear, she slips and falls on the blood, urine and manure covered floor. The moment she scrambles to her feet, a slaughterhouse worker hits her in the skull with the captive bolt. The aim of the captive bolt is NOT to kill the animal, but only to immobilize the animal or render them unconscious. It may take more than one blow -- perhaps two or three - before the horse collapses.

The horse is then dropped through the chute and onto a conveyor belt where she is shackled by a hind leg, hoisted up and hung upside down. The horse is still alive as she is hung upside down; often, the animal is still conscious at this point.

At the next station, the horse's throat is cut and the horse bleeds to death. The reason it is necessary for the horse to still be alive when his or her throat is cut is that, in order for the meat to be fit for human consumption, the blood must be pumped out by the animal's still-beating heart.

This is the fate of more than 100,000 horses in North America every year.

Undercover investigations at slaughterhouses have uncovered the following:

  • Horses with broken legs
  • Horses with eyes gouged out
  • Stolen horses
  • Full term pregnant mares
  • Pregnant mares giving birth while waiting in line to be slaughtered
  • Live full term foals falling onto the killing room floor when their mother's belly is cut open.
  • Foals with their hearts still beating, thrown in the trash.

It may surprise you to learn that horse slaughter is generally accepted among people who raise horses, including the horse racing industry and the North American Equine Ranching Information Council. They see slaughter as a "necessary evil" for disposing of unwanted and surplus horses. But actually, horses are slaughtered because there is a demand for horse meat, and the slaughterhouses kill horses to meet that demand.

How does a horse end up in this horrible situation?

Remember: NO horse is exempt from the possibility of going to slaughter.

A perfect example of this is the tragic story of the legendary thoroughbred, Exceller.

Regarded as one of the greatest racehorses of all time -- with career earnings of more than $1.6 million - he is the only horse to have beaten two Triple Crown winners (Seattle Slew and Affirmed in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup). In August 1997, Exceller's name was listed on the ballot for election to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. When an effort was made to track down the former champion, it was discovered that he died in a slaughterhouse, just three months earlier, on April 7th.
On August 9, 1999, Exceller was inducted into the Hall of Fame. However, his plaque in the museum makes no mention as to the manner of his death -- only that he died in 1997.

Many of the horses who are sent to slaughter were once someone's companion. When someone gives up a horse, they assume that he or she will end up in good hands. But when a horse enters "the market", he or she enters a different world -- a world of auctions and price-for-pound, of "killer buyers" and slaughterhouses. As one horse farmer said, "If an animal sells for less than $700, it's probably on its way to the slaughterhouse." Their former owners have no idea of the pain, fear, and suffering their horses will endure before being slaughtered.

Sadly, horses sent to slaughter have practically NO protection. Even states that have passed laws
that were intended to prevent some of these abuses - California, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and Virginia -- don't really enforce them. This is evidenced by the continuing use of double-decker trailers -- even where they are illegal, as in New York.

One of the repercussions of Europe's hoof and mouth disease crisis, as well as the fear of "Mad Cow Disease", has been an increased demand for horse flesh from North America. The price of exported horse meat is nearly double what it was last year -- up from 45 to now 80 cents a pound. As a result, many PMU farmers are no longer bringing unwanted foals and burned-out mares to auction, but are selling them directly to the slaughterhouses.
To those who have horses -- beware! -- this increased demand for horse flesh puts companion horses at greater risk of being stolen! Remember: The horses most in demand are strong, healthy ones. Illinois Horse ONLINE, as well as The Humane Society of the U.S., have information on their web sites for deterring horse theft.

No horse wants to end up on someone's plate.
Last year, 10 billion farmed animals were killed for food. Those cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, turkeys, ducks, geese, rabbits,... no more willingly gave up their lives to end up on someone's plate than these horses do.
Please know that, whatever the species, ALL animals experience immense suffering and unimaginable horror at the slaughterhouse, as well as on the factory farm, at the auctions and during transport.

What can we do to help the PMU horses?

  1. First, don't take Premarin. If you take Premarin, ask your doctor to prescribe a non-Premarin Hormone Replacement Therapy drug.
  2. Consider plant-based alternatives to Premarin. Most are made from soy or yams.
  3. Try the natural approach to menopause: a low-fat, vegetarian diet and regular exercise.
  4. Boycott Wyeth, the maker of Premarin.
  5. Boycott Wal-Mart Stores. Wal-Mart has been distributing a video promoting Premarin that features Wyeth spokesperson Lauren Hutton.
  6. Educate others (relatives, friends, doctors, nurses) about the cruelty behind the PMU industry.
  7. Wear a pin to help spread the word. United Animal Nations has two pins to help spread the message: "I've Switched" and "Make the Switch."
  8. Write Letters to the Editor telling of the cruelty behind the industry.
  9. Support organizations, such as United Animal Nations and American Horse Defense Fund, who have anti-Premarin campaigns.
  10. Subscribe to United Animal Nations' email newsletter, PMULines.

What can we do to help fight horse slaughter?

  1. First, educate others about horse slaughter.
  2. Don't buy articles made from horse hide, such as: "Corinthian Leather"; clothing and accessories, such as purses, vests, jackets, boots and shoes, made from pony skin (which is usually labeled "pony"); or brushes and other items made from horse hair.
  3. Don't support businesses that send their unwanted equines to slaughter. This would include: attending or betting on horse races; rodeos; horse-drawn carriage rides; pony rides; summer camps with ponies; tourism in Amish country, including bed-and-breakfast stays on Amish farms. If you visited horse auctions in Amish country, such as New Holland, PA or Sugarcreek, OH, you would see many former Amish draft horses, mules and carriage or buggy horses. The Amish are extremely hard on animals, as is evidenced by these equines who have been run into the ground.
  4. Boycott Wyeth, the maker of Premarin.
  5. Support organizations that work toward the goal of ending horse slaughter, such as HOOF PAC and the American Horse Defense Fund.
  6. Subscribe to HOOF PAC's action alert list.
  7. Write Letters to the Editor to raise awareness about the issue of horse slaughter.
  8. Support efforts in your state to oppose horse slaughter. California passed a law that outlaws the selling of horses for slaughter. If several states prohibit horse slaughter, working towards a federal ban would then be possible.
  9. Please write to your Federal Representatives and tell them to support H.R. 3781, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. This bill would not only ban horse slaughter in the U.S., but would also prohibit the interstate and international transport of all equines for slaughter. Because American horses are currently being sent to Canada, Mexico and Japan for slaughter, it is imperative that the bill also include wording that would prohibit transport.

With everyone's support we may be able to bring an end to this suffering.

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