Letters To The Editor: Premarin Foal Rescue

Dear Editor,
Given the all too ubiquitous examples of man’s inhumanity to man (Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, Israel/Palestine, ad nauseum!), how can we expect human beings to be kind to ANY other species here on Earth…or in the oceans? (see Mar/Apr ‘02, “Letters to the Editor,” “Navy activates low frequency sonar.”)

Some time ago, Rachel Carson authored Silent Spring. Man, in his untiring effort to obtain more and more money, has taken damned little heed of her warnings to support Mother Nature! Rather, they’ve looked to technology as a savior. Granted, technology is a wonderful thing, but it must have its limitations.

And it has to be up to humans to know what those limitations are! The whales and dolphins were here before us !

Ed Sarkisian
Vets Home, Bristol, RI

Dear Editor,
I am writing in response to your “Premarin Foal Rescue” article (Jan/Feb ‘02). I just came across it while looking for something else and thought I would send you a comment or two. My name is Jennifer Kunz and I am part of the PMU [stands for “pregnant mare urine” used in the manufacture of the drug Premarin] foal placement organization FoalQuest. FoalQuest assisted Jennifer Johns and Cheryl Forbes with purchasing and transporting their PMU foals from Alberta to California in the fall of 2001. It was very nice to read about Cory getting one of those foals, as I would have seen her filly Sarah as a weanling.

I wanted to specifically comment on some of the PMU information presented in the article, as I believe it is somewhat inaccurate and misleading. I have personally been to many PMU barns in Alberta and want to share my first hand knowledge, rather than allowing the misinformation to continue to spread. I’ll put this in bullet form for simplicity.

  • There is no urine in Premarin, crush a pill and you will NOT smell horse pee. The mare’s urine goes through over 125 steps, 35 tests and 300 quality control checks before it is manufactured into a hormone replacement therapy drug called Premarin.
  • Mares are not fitted with a catheter. The urine collection device is not attached to them in any way, it is a rubber bag-like thing suspended behind them with flexible surgical tubing, allowing free range of motion.
  • Mares are not “cooped up in small stalls.” PMU mares are tied in stalls that are from 4 to 5 feet wide, depending on the size of the mare. The leads are long enough to allow the mares to move forward and back, and they can lie down comfortably.
  • Mares’ water is not restricted. PMU mares are given the daily required amount of water as recommended by the National Research Councils’ “Nutrient Requirements of Horses” (1989). Producers are not paid for the concentration of the urine; they are paid per gram of estrogen, no matter what the volume of urine is. Restricting water is of no benefit to the producers.
  • PMU mares spend approximately 150 days in the collection barn, which means that they are out on pasture for more than half the year. The mares are brought into the barns in October, when they are about 120 days into their pregnancy. They are put out on pasture again in March. The mares foal starting in early May. The stallions are turned out with each herd of mares on June 1. The mares breed naturally during the months of June and July.
  • NAERIC (North American Equine Ranch Information Council) did not create the rules and regulations governing the industry. PMU farmers are individually contracted to Ayerst-Organics, and are bound by the Code of Practice for The Care and Handling of Horses in PMU Operations. Ayerst employs inspectors to monitor the farms, and failure to abide by the Code of Practice will result in termination of the contract.

I hope you will consider publishing an amendment to the original article, in order to more accurately reflect the PMU industry. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Jennifer Kunz, Vice President, FoalQuest Ltd.

Response from Bill Strubbe, author of the original article:

The topic of Premarin Foal Rescue is a hot one and the facts and figures will differ depending on which organization you talk to. Foal Quest is an organization that works closely with the Premarin farmers and are essentially their spokespeople, so while there are a few inaccuracies in the article, which I regret, basically the piece stands: the less than humane raising of mares; when a mare can no longer become pregnant she is killed; foals are being slaughtered by the thousands; and most criminal is that because of plant-derived alternatives it is entirely unnecessary to be creating Premarin at all and its resulting carnage. Not surprisingly Jennifer Kunz chooses to nit-pick on the minor details, because someone — perhaps Ms. Kunz herself — is making lots of money off the slaughter.

  • It is a mistake on my part to have mentioned the smell of the pills without having actually smelled them myself. But I have been assured by several women that if you break the pill and add a drop of water, the smell is distinct. Though it is far removed the yellow liquid state, Premarin is indeed made from refined urine.
  • My first mention was “catheter bag,” which is the correct term, though “fitted” may not be the correct word, as there is no tube entering the urethra. I have been told, though, that the bag can and does cause rashes due to the constant dampness.
  • One could easily argue about what is considered “small.” [stall size] Assuming a full-grown (and pregnant) mare is probably over 2 1/2 feet wide, 9 inches on each side (if it’s four feet wide and 18 inches if it’s five feet wide) is not by any stretch of the imagination commodious. And, I seriously doubt that for a creature that was born to roam wild on the plains, that any kind of stall makes them happy. Farms do vary in hygiene, conditions, and treatment, but in the end the pregnant mares are all confined. Susan Wagner of Equine Rescue, who last visited several PMU farms in 2000, said that “The pregnant mares are confined and unable to move around freely. They can never reach a position of ‘lateral recumbence.’ Often their legs are swollen, and one farmer said that occasionally they just drop dead on the line.”
  • My sentence of “Many are kept dehydrated so their urine is concentrated” perhaps should have been in the past tense, or possibly omitted. But following that I clearly state that now the farmers are paid by concentration of the hormone and not by urine volume as it once was. But Susan Wagner said that water is restricted/controlled by pipes.
  • Someone at Ayerst-Organics did not wake up one morning with a pang of conscience about the treatment of horses and instigate the changes. The changes were a direct result of pressure from outside organizations.

Please send Letters to the Editor to: info@spiritofchange.org. Letters may be edited for clarity or length.