The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority is currently reviewing footage from a Youtube documentary that features clips of Icelandic mares being mistreated during blood-collection procedures. The conditions and conduct caught on camera are “utterly unacceptable,” says the Chairman of the Horse Breeders Association of Iceland.
Animal cruelty captured on hidden cameras
On November 19, Tierschutzbund Zürich (TSB, Switzerland) and the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF, Germany) posted a documentary to Youtube under the heading “Iceland – Land of the 5,000 Blood Mares.”
The documentary reports on the activities within so-called “blood farms” in Iceland, where blood is drawn from mares in early pregnancy to extract ECG (previously known as pregnant mare’s serum gonadotropin or PMSG): a hormone commonly used in concert with progestogens to induce ovulation in livestock prior to artificial insemination.
The documentary features footage from hidden cameras showing workers beating and shouting at horses. The filmmakers claim to have discovered “widespread animal-welfare violations” in Iceland, which run counter to claims made by pharmaceutical companies on the nature of blood-collection procedures in the country.
As noted by MAST, the extraction of ECG from pregnant mares is a growing industry in Iceland; blood from almost 5,400 mares, on 119 farms, has been drawn in 2021.
Affiliated parties react
Following coverage of the documentary in the media, various parties connected to blood-collection farms in Iceland have commented publicly. In a press release on Sunday, Ísteka – which manufactures pharmaceuticals from the blood of mares – denounced the treatment of the animals in the documentary:
“Ísteka disapproves strongly of sourcing practices that do not comply with the high animal welfare standards we work by and that we recommend to our customers and colleagues. We have immediately started an internal supplier review to investigate the allegations and cannot comment any further on this at this time.”
In an interview with Vísir, farmer Sæunn Þórarinsdóttir criticized the footage recorded on her property on the grounds that it lacked context. “None of my operations have anything to do with what is seen in that video,” she stated. Sæunn further alleged that the documentarians misrepresented reality on several occasions. (Early on in the video, for example, the documentarians say that they’re being followed by a veterinarian driving a grey jeep. “The veterinarian in question was simply on his way home,” Sæunn told Vísir.)
“The footage is horrible to watch and not at all an accurate depiction of our operations. We have a complete ban on violence; I would personally beat anyone who laid a finger on my horses,” Sæunn remarked.
In a public statement released yesterday, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) announced that it was reviewing the footage seen in the documentary. “The procedures caught on film appear to violate operational conditions, which stipulate the horses’ welfare be ensured.”
In the statement, MAST stressed that the supervision of blood-collection procedures is a priority. “Since the regulation on the welfare of horses came into effect in 2014, MAST has established clear conditions for blood-extraction procedures performed on pregnant mares, and we have gradually ramped up supervision.”
According to the statement, MAST inspectors pay annual visits to a fifth of blood-collecting farms in Iceland during the time that procedures are being performed. “If, during inspections, serious deviations from protocol are noted, operations are stopped; the operations of five facilities has been halted since 2014.”
“No stone must be left unturned”
In an interview with the radio station Rás 2 this morning, Sveinn Steinarsson, Chairman of the Horse Breeders Association of Iceland, stated that it was clear that the horses in the video had been mistreated: blood-collection is a sensitive procedure that demands great care.
“The extraction of blood from pregnant mares has been practiced for almost 40 years and the fact that the operating conditions are, after all this time – and given especially how extensive these operations have become – so unsatisfactory is utterly unacceptable,” Sveinn remarked in the interview.
While he condemned the mistreatment of mares in the documentary, Sveinn warned against generalization: “I expect that conditions are acceptable in most places, but, as it stands, our discussion is beginning with the lowest-common denominator.”
Sveinn concluded by stating that those who were charged with the supervision of blood-collection procedures in Iceland had many questions to answer. “As far as what is depicted in the documentary, I expect no stone to be left unturned.”
This article was updated at 15:17.