Police Drop Blood Mare Investigation

Icelandic horse

Icelandic police have dropped the investigation into the treatment of mares during blood extraction, Bændablaðið reports. The ill-treatment of mares during the practice was first brought to light in 2021 by foreign animal welfare organisations.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) had previously investigated the treatment that appeared in a video that the animal welfare organisations AWF and TBZ published on YouTube in November 2021. MAST requested more information and unedited footage from the animal welfare organisations but did not receive it. A statement released by AWF/TBZ spokespersons in December 2021 said they would not hand over any unedited videos to MAST, but were willing to cooperate if a public investigation took place. MAST therefore referred the case to the police for further investigation at the end of January 2022.

The case was dismissed a year later, or at the end of January 2023, according to information from the South Iceland Police Department. The police repeatedly tried to obtain additional data from the animal protection organisations, which hid behind German laws that did not require them to hand over the data.

However, sources say that the representatives of the animal welfare organisations were in fact willing to hand over the data, but only if a legal request was made, in order to ensure the best evidentiary value of the data. Such a request was, however, never received from Iceland.

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. 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. Iceland tightened regulations on blood mare farms last year.

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.

“Blood Farms” Documentary Shocks the Nation

Icelandic horses are a unique breed, bred in isolation in Iceland since settlement times.

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 […]

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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.

MAST Reviewing Footage of Mistreated Mares in Youtube Doc

Blood Mare

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.

MAST investigates

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.