Food and Veterinary Authority Refers Mare Abuse Incident to Police

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) has completed its investigation of the mistreatment of Icelandic mares during blood collection procedures. Per a press release on its website, the agency has determined that the abuse, which was caught by hidden camera and featured in a YouTube documentary called “Iceland – Land of 5,000 Blood Mares,” constitutes a breach of animal welfare laws. The incident and all related evidence have been turned over to the police.

See Also: MAST Reviewing Footage of Mistreated Mares in YouTube Doc

The documentary was posted in November 2021 by Tierschutzbund Zürich (TSB, Switzerland) and the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF, Germany) and has since received almost 70,500 views. It 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.

See Also: Blood Harvesting in Mares Four Times More Frequent Than a Decade Ago

In the course of its investigation, MAST contacted both TSB and AWF and requested further information on where and when the video footage had been taken, as well as whatever uncut footage was available. MAST says that in December, it received an open letter from the organizations in which they refused to share uncut footage or confirm filming locations, although they did specify the dates on which the footage had been shot.

Experts at MAST reviewed the documentary footage in detail and were able to determine both the location of the incidents as well as the people involved. The agency sought explanations from the individuals in question and their responses to the video footage. However, although MAST was able to confirm that abuses had taken place, the agency says that without all of the footage, including the uncut material that TSB and AWF refuse to provide, it is limited in its ability to assess the seriousness of the violations or to investigate the case in full.

Blood Harvesting in Mares Four Times More Frequent Than a Decade Ago

The practice of extracting blood from pregnant mares has quadrupled in frequency during the last decade, RÚV reports. The increased frequency is a result of a growing demand for a hormone called ECG (also known as Pregnant Mare Serum Gonadotropin, or PMSG), which can be found in large quantities in the blood serum of pregnant mares. The hormone is used in the animal pharmaceutical industry, mainly as a fertility booster for other farm animals.

In November, the Animal Welfare Foundation and Tierschutzbund Zurich released a documentary that revealed the harsh treatment of pregnant mares in Iceland during the procedure, which included beatings of the animals. A wave of criticism followed the release of the footage. At present, 4,500 individuals have signed a petition to halt blood harvesting in mares in Iceland. In February, the leader of Flokkur fólksins (the People’s Party) proposed a nationwide ban on blood harvesting. She has asserted that the bill will be one of the party’s top priorities during this electoral term

ÍSTEKA, the company that produces pharmaceuticals from the blood serum of Icelandic mares said in a public statement that the company was alarmed by the practices exposed in the documentary and condemned the maltreatment of the mares in question. According to the statement, the company began an internal supplier review to investigate the allegations immediately after the footage was released. The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) also asserted that supervising blood-collecting procedures was a priority, and had been so since a regulation regarding the practice came into effect in 2014. However, the documentary has made clear that the authority’s inspections have not succeeded in sufficiently protecting the animals from cruel treatment.

Accessing the executives of Ísteka has been a struggle for journalists, RÚV reports. The news agency has not succeeded in lining up an interview with the CEO so far, but the company has instead responded to their enquiries via e-mail. Ísteka has disclosed that a little less than 5,400 mares are used for the purposes of the blood harvesting industry in the country. The company owns 300 of them. The company makes an annual profit of 1,9 billion ISK [$14.5 million, €12.9 million] and employs 40 people. During high season, around 200 people are involved in the practice.