Minister of Fishing and Agriculture Svandís Svavarsdóttir has organised a work group to investigate the controversial practice of so-called “blood mares” in Iceland.
An announcement from Iceland’s government offices states that the work group with “investigate work practices, regulations and supervision of this practice, and investigate legislation and the way this work is conducted overseas.”
As reported, Iceland is one of only three countries in the world, including Argentina and Uruguay, who engage in the practice of inseminating mares in order to draw their blood for the extraction of the hormone PMSG, which is used to boost fertility and synchronise births in other farm animals, primarily pigs, for the production of meat.
The announcement states further that the work group will ask for representatives from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority–who are currently investigating charges of animal abuse at these blood mare farms–and the Institute of Ethics at the University of Iceland. No timeframe has been given for when the work group will present its findings, but it is due to begin its work in the coming days.
The story was first broken by the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) and Tierschutzbund Zurich, who released a graphic and disturbing 20-minute documentary about these farms.
The video documents that there are 119 such blood farms in Iceland with about 5,000 Icelandic horses overall. Apart from the documented beating, harassment, and poor conditions in which the horses are kept, the procedure itself is also costly for the horses. PMSG can reportedly only be extracted in early pregnancy, and so foals are typically aborted in order to allow for mares to be impregnated twice yearly. Furthermore, the AWF says that about 30% of these mares drop out of the system, either from dying under these conditions or from being sent to slaughterhouses when they can no longer get pregnant.
Icelandic veterinary authorities are reportedly aware of the practice, saying that they conduct routine inspections and, if violations are found on site, the practice is stopped at once. However, they also said that they only visit about 40% of these farms each year.
The revelations have sparked outrage in a country known for its unique horse breed, with strong objections raised by both horse farmers and other Icelanders alike. While a member of the parliamentary opposition had submitted a bill for these farms to be banned altogether, for the time being this work group is the government’s first response.
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