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Animal cruelty. Justice investigates the extraction of blood from pregnant mares


According to the criminal presentation of an NGO, during the procedure the mares are treated with violence; also denounces the suffering of the aborted foals.

In March 2015, the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF), of German origin, began to do research in Argentina to document and give testimony about the suffering of pregnant mares used for the production of the hormone PMSG (pregnant mare serum gonadotropin), a business that has existed for approximately 30 years. The buyers of this hormone are pharmaceutical companies that, in turn, sell this product under different names to animal breeding farms, particularly pigs, with the aim of synchronizing and organizing the oestrus of the mothers so that the sows immediately enter into heat once the young are taken from them. In this way, the unproductive time is much shorter and, on the other hand, the work is more efficient. This hormone is also used in cows, goats, and sheep. “We arrived at the Syntex company, of Argentine origin and whose main plant is in the district of Ayacucho, province of Buenos Aires. Once or twice a week, they draw up to ten liters of blood from pregnant mares over a period of about three months. As a consequence, the foals are systematically aborted. The hormone can only be obtained between days 40 and 120 of gestation. After this moment, the mares return to be impregnated and the cycle begins again. The consequence is about 5000 abortions per year. In this plant the company has a herd of approximately 3,000 mares. When they cannot get pregnant, they are sent to slaughter. We talked to employees, neighbors, veterinarians, ”said Sabrina Gurtner, AWF Project Manager. "In one of the videos filmed at the plant, you can see how the mares are brutally forced into the boxes, how they are beaten with sticks on the head and use electric prods. Another mare is beaten by an employee until she falls to the ground, ”she described. 

Alejandra García, from the animal rights organization Fundación Franz Weber, has filed a criminal complaint against Syntex SA (one of the largest manufacturers in the world) for cruelty to animals, events that would be perpetrated for years in the context of the production of the hormone. The legal presentation of the Franz Weber Foundation refers to the Argentinean animal protection law No. 14,346, which penalizes causing unnecessary suffering to animals. “It is a cruel business that must be stopped. The extraction of the hormone from the blood of pregnant mares has caused the death of thousands of mares and foals in recent years ”, explained García. “Despite the repeated assurances expressed by those responsible for the blood farm, the cruel conditions of the collection have not improved. Syntex has invested primarily money in visual protection and defending against our inspections, but not in animal welfare, ”recalled Sabrina Gurtner. Syntex's first reaction was to deny that the images seen in the videos were taken at their establishment: "Our internal standards and practices regarding animal welfare have absolutely nothing to do with the practices that are shown in the published material in the media in recent days,” they said. Shortly after, the company acknowledged that the images were actually filmed on its property and also claimed to have had a meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, with members of the AWF to work on the issue and that they are in permanent communication. 

Leonardo Barnabá, lawyer for both foundations in this case, stated: “There is no doubt that the activity carried out by the company constitutes unnecessary suffering under the terms of Law 14,346. In addition, we have received a significant amount of allegedly internal footage of the place where other forms of mistreatment are also observed, such as blows to the face of horses by workers, kicking, areas where the animals did not have water available”. The complaint, he added, “began in November 2019 and is processedbefore the UFIJ N ° 2 of Dolores by Diego Bensi, with the fiscal assistant of Ayacucho ”. When consulted, Bensi confirmed that “the procedural purpose of the case is to establish whether within the framework of this activity, which is an activity authorized and permitted by the Argentine State, there are actions or conducts that may configure some of the illicit conducts provided by animal protection law and mistreatment of animals”; he did not want to comment further on the progress of the file. Syntex spokesmen reminded LA NACION that the company is regularly audited by Senasa. 

From Senasa, they responded to LA NACION that the company has authorization from the body for the production of blood products, but revealed that the regulations governing the activity are being revised in accordance with the advancement of the recommendations of international organizations and that in the coming weeks the normative project will be in public consultation, without giving further details about it. 

"Now it is up to the prosecution to take measures and stop this exploitation of animals," Garcia added. And she lists some of the violations: systematic abortions at such a late stage of pregnancy are not only extremely painful for mares, but also risk the health and lives of the animals. Furthermore, they are torture for aborted foals, because they die in agony without anesthesia. According to testimonies of veterinarians provided in the complaint before the Justice, fetuses feel pain, while the treatment of horses during blood extraction is violent, very unprofessional and cruel, since coercive measures are used: with iron hooks, ropes, straps, head beatings, and deliberate pain to external genitalia. 

The collection of blood from pregnant mares for the production of PMSG is not done by chance in Argentina. In the European Union, it would be more expensive and would be regulated by law. "Therefore, a country with weak laws has been chosen, in which production can continue uncontrolled in a legal gray area for decades," Gurtner said. Due to a lack of regulation, mares have large amounts of blood drawn in too little time and too often. "The whole process happens without real veterinary supervision," NGO research shows. Consequently, about 20% of the mares must be replaced with new ones each year. They die or become infertile and are sent to slaughter. 

Buyers of the fertility hormone are from the agribusiness reproductive industry. The PMSG hormone synchronizes piglet production in Europe, but is also used to increase profits in intensive livestock farming in the United States, South America and Asia. “There are synthetic alternatives, in any case, and you don't need to subject the mares to this. It's just a huge business,” Garcia said. Some of Syntex's clients were pharmaceutical companies from the European Union. “After cruelty to animals on South American blood farms was exposed in Europe, several pharmaceutical companies stopped importing PMSG from Argentina and Uruguay. They don't want to tarnish their good name,” Gurtner concluded. For example, the Ceva Laboratory, which on its own website reports on what it based this decision on. However, Syntex spokesmen gave another version to LA NACION, according to which the laboratory stopped acquiring the product for commercial reasons. 

The final decision is yet to be seen. Times have changed and the manipulation of animals as if they were things has terrible consequences in the world. In addition, more and more consumers are beginning to look at labels to ensure that the manufacturing processes are free from animal suffering. 

Isabel de Estrada

Sources: La Nacion

Photo: Animal Welfare Foundation



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