Since the 1980s, Icelandic horse farmers have been extracting the hormone Equine Chorionic Gonadotropin (eCG) from their pregnant mares to gain extra income. The hormone can be removed from the mare’s blood and sold for large sums. Although the practice has mostly been ignored in Iceland, the release of a documentary by the German animal rights organization, The Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF), in 2021 raised questions on animal welfare and blood harvesting surveillance. The documentary showcased animal cruelty at Icelandic horse farms where the hormone was being extracted. It also revealed that the hormone is mainly used to boost fertility in other farm animals, and Iceland is one of only a handful of countries that operate blood farms. The documentary stated that about 5,000 Icelandic horses overall are subjected to the procedure.
The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) reported that they were aware of all of the farms and conducted on-site inspections but admitted that they visit less than half of the farms each year. After the documentary was released, Iceland’s government took an interest in the footage. Members of parliament sought answers, and Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir organized a working group to investigate blood farming. The company that produces pharmaceuticals from Icelandic mares’ blood serum, Ísteka, announced that it had terminated cooperation with the farms that have been accused of animal mistreatment.
In early January of 2022, MAST completed its investigation and found that the abuse captured in the documentary constituted a breach of animal welfare laws in Iceland. Those convicted of animal cruelty in Iceland can face hefty fines and up to two years of jail time, according to Icelandic law. However, in many cases, those convicted only face a minor fine and no jail time. Animal welfare specialists in Iceland have stated that an outright ban on extracting eCG from mares is unrealistic, and they suggest that it needs to be monitored to ensure that animal welfare is not violated, and such parties are punished.
Regulations were further strengthened in June of last year, including the introduction of licensing requirements.