Premarin and Horse Slaughter: The Hidden Story
By Cheryl Kucsera
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 stmenopausal 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 MareThe 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. 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.
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.
Remember: NO horse is exempt from the possibility of going to slaughter.
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. 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. No horse wants to end up on someone’s plate. 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 PMU Horses?
First, don’t take Premarin. If you take Premarin, ask your doctor to prescribe a non-Premarin Hormone Replacement Therapy drug. Consider plant-based alternatives to Premarin. Most are made from soy or yams. Try the natural approach to menopause: a low-fat, vegetarian diet and regular exercise. Educate others (relatives, friends, doctors, nurses) about the cruelty behind the PMU industry.