Iceland Tightens Regulations on Blood Mare Farms

Icelandic horse

Blood mare farming, the practice of extracting blood from pregnant mares for sale, will soon be subject to a licence in Iceland. This is one of several measures the Icelandic government is taking to tighten and clarify regulations on the controversial practice. The new regulations will be valid for three years, during which authorities will “assess its future,” according to a government notice.

Iceland’s blood mare farm industry made international headlines last winter after the Germany-based Animal Welfare Foundation posted a documentary on YouTube under the heading “Iceland – Land of the 5,000 Blood Mares.” The documentary contained footage showcasing ill treatment of horses on blood farms, including horses being shouted at and hit.

Read More: Blood Farms Documentary Shocks the Nation

Following the publication of the video, the Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir appointed a working group to review the practice and whether it ensured the welfare of the animals involved. The working group’s report, published yesterday, concluded that existing regulations on the practice were “very vague and not acceptable, as they concern a fairly extensive and controversial activity.”

More detailed provisions

In addition to implementing a licencing system for the practice, the group proposed tightening regulations on blood mare farming “with regard to the views of stakeholders and others with whom the working group spoke.” These include more detailed provisions on conditions and facilities at the farms, monitoring of horse health, grooming, and temperament assessment, as well as the working methods of blood collection and internal and external monitoring. The report’s authors proposed banning production systems based on mass production of mares’ blood, as they could endanger the welfare of the animals.

The working group consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, the Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), and the University of Iceland’s Centre for Ethics. The Animal Welfare Foundation and many other interest groups were consulted in the writing of the report.

Only six countries operate blood farms

Since the 1980s, horse farmers in Iceland have been able to gain extra income by extracting the hormone Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) from their pregnant mares. This hormone exists in pregnant mares’ blood and can be removed and sold for hefty sums. To begin with, blood farming was a secondary practice on horse farms, but later, some farmers turned their focus to the practice, with data from 2019 indicating that 95 farmers supplied pregnant mare’s blood. Just one company, Ísteka, buys and processes blood harvested from mares in Iceland.

The hormone extracted from pregnant mares is mainly used to boost fertility in other farm animals. Only a handful of countries operate blood farms besides Iceland: Russia, Mongolia, China, Uruguay, and Argentina.

50-Year-Old Westfjords Grave Dug Up for Investigation

Bolungarvík

The remains of a 19-year-old man who died nearly 50 years ago have been exhumed from his Westfjords grave for investigation. If the case goes to court, it will be unprecedented, says an associate professor of law at Reykjavík University. The victim died following a traffic accident, which was not investigated thoroughly.

Kristinn H. Jóhannesson died near Bolungarvík, in the Westfjords, following a car accident in 1973. Two others were in the car with him, an driver and another passenger, both of whom are still alive today. The two are, however, not defendants in the case. The investigation is being carried out to determine whether the cause of the accident was different than originally believed.

No autopsy following accident

Kristinn’s family has criticised how little the case was investigated. His remains were exhumed last Friday in order to conduct forensic analysis, something that was not done at the time of the accident.

The investigation is unprecedented in Iceland, according to Sindri M. Stephensen, an associate professor at Reykjavík University. “This case, based on the information I have, it was investigated as an accident case according to criminal law, but at a later date some [conflicting] evidence emerges.”

Evidence could result in court case

Despite the fact that the case is decades old, Sindri says that if evidence of a criminal act is found, it would be possible to issue an indictment and take the accused to court, which would decide whether the evidence proves the defendant guilty. However, it is also possible nothing will come of the investigation, Sindri says, and difficult to predict an outcome if it does go to court.

There are examples of older rulings being overturned in Iceland, the most notorious being in the Guðmundur and Geirfinnur case, which revolved around the disappearance of two men in 1974. In September 2018, a retrial of the case led to five acquittals.

That case did not involve any physical evidence, however, as Kristinn’s case does. “This is a unique case,” Sindri emphasised. “It would be a first in Icelandic legal history.”

Scrapie-Resistant Sheep Multiply in East Iceland

Karólína Elísabetardóttir - Hvammshlíð - Húnavatnssýsla

The lambing season is going well at Þernunes farm in Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland, where 27 lambs have been born that carry the ARR genotype that protects them against the fatal disease scrapie, RÚV reports. The genotype was first found in Iceland on this very farm last January, through a research project that analysed thousands of genetic samples from sheep across the country. Researchers believe that careful breeding of sheep that carry the ARR genotype could eradicate scrapie from Iceland.

Read More: Good Breeding

Scrapie is a degenerative and fatal disease that affects sheep. Because it is highly contagious and can persist in flocks for decades, a flock in which the disease is discovered must be culled. Within the European Union, sheep that carry the ARR genotype do not need to be culled, even when scrapie is diagnosed within their flock, as research shows the gene protects them from both contracting and transmitting the disease.

Þernunes is home to the only ram so far found in Iceland to carry the gene: Gimsteinn (Gemstone). He carries the genotype on one chromosome, meaning that his descendants have a 50% chance of inheriting it. Þernunes farmer Steinn Björnsson says that by the end of lambing season, he expects around 40 of the farm’s lambs will carry the gene.

Another genotype known to protect sheep from scrapie, T137, was also recently found in at least four Icelandic sheep. Extensive research in Italy has found that T137 protects sheep from scrapie, but it is not officially recognised by the EU as the ARR genotype.