A horse is a horse, of course, of course...unless there are too many of them? An estimated 170,000 so-called unwanted horses populate the US annually and a debate is raging over their fate ever since slaughter houses in the US closed down a few years ago. Tens of thousands are sent across the border to Canada and Mexico each year, where many are turned into meat that is exported elsewhere.
What has this got to do with Pfizer? The drugmaker sells the Premarin hormone replacement therapy, which is made from the urine of pregnant mares. And the Equine Welfare Alliance contends the root cause can be traced to overbreeding, and charges that Pfizer's Wyeth unit contributes to the problem by contracting with ranchers to provide urine needed to make its medication.
As it so happens, Tom Lenz, who is the immediate past chair of the Unwanted Horse Coalition and the senior director of equine veterinary services at Pfizer Animal Health, hosted a phone call last night to discuss a new report from the US General Accountability Office, which found more horses have been abandoned since US slaughterhouses closed and the economy soured. Pfizer is also sponsoring the call.
"The UHC, supposedly founded to propose solutions to the excess horse problem, has instead concentrated on promoting the phrase 'unwanted horse' to take the focus off of overproduction, which slaughter actually encourages, and imply slaughter horses are somehow unusable except as meat," the EWA says in a statement.
"The phrase 'unwanted horse' is actually a clever invention," EWA president John Holland tell us. "What we have are excess horses, because of overbreeding." He goes on to cite a 1998 study by researchers at the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University that was commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture to determine where horses were harmed while being transported to slaughter. The results - 92 percent actually arrived in good condition (read here). Of course, this was more than a decade ago, before US slaughterhouses closed and the economy nosedived.
A Pfizer spokesman disagrees that the drugmaker is contributing to overbreeding. However, he did write us that Pfizer collected pregnant mare urine from about 5,100 mares in 2009 and 2010, but was unable to provide the number of ranches contracted to supply the ingredient, other than to say these are located "primarily" in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Erica Caslin, who now chairs the UHC, tells us that her group has not taken a position on slaughtering, but believes the increase in abandoned or unwanted horses can be traced to the reasons cited in the GAO report. However, she adds that indiscriminate breeding also contributes to the problem. "But no one wants horses to suffer," she says.
Meanwhile, the American Association of Equine Practitioners says that a "small percentage of horses are ultimately unwanted because they are no longer serviceable, are infirm, dangerous, or their owners are no longer able to care for them" and that " processing" unwanted horses is "a necessary aspect of the equine industry, and provides a humane alternative to allowing the horse to continue a life of discomfort and pain, and possibly inadequate care or abandonment." The AAEP, by the way, is a founding member of the Unwanted Horse Coalition and continues as a contributor, a spokeswoman tells us.
horse pic thx to nathanmac87 on flickr
Hat tip to Placebo Effect