Dossiers

Production of PMSG in South America

1. The blood business

For more than 30 years, five companies in Uruguay and Argentina have been operating so-called blood farms. On these farms, blood is taken from pregnant mares for the production of the hormone Pregnant Mare Serum Gonadotropin (PMSG). The hormone is exported worldwide, also to the European Union. The import into Switzerland ceased in January 2017. Buyers are pharmaceutical companies, that sell the hormone to animal breeding farms. PMSG serves for the induction and synchronisation of oestrus, in particular in pig production. The German company IDT Biologika, a vendor of products containing PMSG, describes the effects as follows:

"One method that has been used successfully over several decades to stimulate and synchronise oestrus is the administration of a PMSG preparation to the sows concerned in order to start their cycle 24 hours after separation from the piglets. In properly treated, healthy hybrid sows, more than 95 % of animals can be expected to come into oestrus within a few days."

Tierschutzbund Zürich and the Animal Welfare Foundation have investigated the issue since early 2015. The more the investigation went into depth, the more it became clear that the production of the blood serum is incredibly brutal for the mares. At the time of our first investigation, the production took place without any controls by the governments of the producing countries. Today the governments claim that controls are in place. However, our on-going investigations show that nothing has changed.

The EU Commission and OIE do not feel responsible for the control and regulation of PMSG production. Government representatives from Uruguay assume that the European pharmaceutical companies have their PMSG produced in Argentina and Uruguay because their own animal protection laws would not allow it.

It is a business worth millions and lucrative for countries like Uruguay and Argentina. The South American governments do not intervene, and Uruguay even subsidises at least one blood farm.

The investigations of TSB|AWF are aimed at informing and achieving an EU-wide import ban on PMSG as well as a prohibition of the use of PMSG in pig production. 

2. The hormone PMSG

Pregnant Mare Serum Gonadotropin (PMSG) is a pregnancy hormone found in the blood of mares. It is produced in the chorion of mares during early gestation (from day 40 to 140). PMSG does not appear in the urine of mares. Because of its close relationship with the human pregnancy hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), the hormone is also called equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG).

Use and effects

PMSG is used for the induction and synchronisation of oestrus in farm animals, in particular pigs. Through the administration of PMSG it is intended that the sows come into heat at the same time and the deliveries can take place synchronously. Thus, working processes for piglet producers become more efficient. Other animal species also treated with PMSG include sheep, goats and cows.

Described (side-)effects of PMSG with pigs are, among others, superovulation due to the formation of an exceptionally large number of follicles. The superovulation leads to more piglets per litter. As a result, not all piglets can be fed by the sow as she does not have enough teats. The “surplus” piglets are usually left to die; cases have become known where they were struck dead. In a few establishments the surplus piglets are fed by so-called foster sows.

Furthermore, the administration of PMSG induces and accelerates the development of puberty in sows. Nowadays, the induction of puberty has no legitimacy anymore, as according to scientific studies the lifetime production and lifespan of a sow increase the better she is sexually developed when she gives birth for the first time, if i.e. the ovaries are fully developed.

 

Why do many farmers rely on PMSG? (excerpt of an advertising flyer of the company IDT, a German manufacturer of PMSG products)

• because the weaning – oestrous interval is significantly reduced

• because at least 95 % of sows come into heat

• because in this way the number of unproductive days is reduced

• because a shorter and synchronised oestrus pattern means easier planning of working hours

• because PMSG is a 100 % natural product

 

The active agent Peforelin

Products with the synthetically produced active substance Peforelin are available on the EU market. Scientific studies have shown that this substance is equally suited like PMSG to stimulate and synchronise oestrus in young and old sows and that its use achieves comparably good fertility performance. The substance has been proven generally and locally as very well tolerated in all studies, is quickly enzymatically decomposed in the animal’s body and does not cause any residues in the meat.

Contrary to PMSG, Peforelin does not lead to superovulation (larger litter sizes) nor to induction of puberty. 

Comparison of costs between the synthetically produced substance and natural PMSG:
(price in Swiss Francs)

Folligon (PMSG) 5000 I.E. CHF 45.- (treatment of 5 pigs)
Maprelin (Peforelin) 10 ml. CHF 41.- (treatment of 5 pigs)

3. Producers: Blood farms in Argentina and Uruguay

The blood business is in the hands of a few companies. Besides the Argentinian company Syntex SA, which is one of the largest producers of PMSG worldwide and has a branch in Uruguay, there are three more producers in Uruguay: the blood farms "Las Marquesas", "Biomega SA" und "La Paloma".

  • Syntex S.A. (Argentina, Uruguay) (1)
    The company Syntex SA with its headquarters in Buenos Aires (Argentina) exports their products for human and veterinary medicine in over 25 countries on five continents. In Uruguay, they operate the largest blood farm, the Estancia "Loma Azul". Customs documents show that in the period from January to May 2017 the companies Syntex Argentina and Syntex Uruguay exported a total of 1.3 kilograms of PMSG to the EU with a value of about 10 million US Dollars.
  • Estancia „Las Marquesas“ (Uruguay)
    The blood farm "Las Marquesas" is located in the province of Maldonado. The owner is the veterinarian and university professor Dr. Fernando Perdigón.
  • Estancia „La Paloma” (Uruguay)
    "La Paloma" is located in the province of San José. The owner of the blood farm is Roberto Mailhos, a world-famous breeder of Criollo horses.
     
  • Biomega S.A. (Uruguay)
    The blood farm "Biomega S.A." is located in the province of Cerro Largo. The owner is the veterinarian Martin Bocking, and the general manager is his brother Juan Bocking.

Extracts from our investigations

Since March 2015, Tierschutzbund Zürich and Animal Welfare Foundation have regularly carried out investigations in Argentina and Uruguay to uncover and document the suffering of mares used for PMSG production.

The investigators have spoken to (former) employees, neighbours, blood farmers, veterinarians and representatives of the ministry in Uruguay. The findings of the investigations prove that mares are brutally abused, exploited and neglected as part of the production of PMSG. Once or twice a week, up to ten litres of blood are taken from the mares for a period of eleven to twelve weeks. The foals are systematically aborted, as the hormone can only be obtained during early pregnancy. Following this, the mares are impregnated again.

    Footage of investigations carried out in 2015 showed emaciated mares, weakened by the high blood loss and permanent gestation. Mares that were covered in scars from beatings. Supervision and medical care of the animals could be observed on none of the blood farms. Video footage of a blood extraction session showed how mares were forced into the restraint boxes with brutality and abuse. About 30 minutes of the recorded five hours of footage were scenes of pure violence. The animals were hit with sticks, wooden boards and whips. Electric prods were used as well. An employee was observed kicking a weakened mare until she collapsed and remained on the floor.

    Investigations from May 2016 until April 2017 showed that despite the promises of authorities and pharmaceutical companies, the situation had not improved. Mares were still violently thrashed to be moved into the blood extraction boxes, they were still left to fend for themselves in fields and forests, injuries remained untreated and foals were still systematically aborted. Our team visited again all blood farms in Uruguay known since 2015 and discovered a forth blood farm: Biomega SA. Based on our comprehensive investigations, we assume that about 30% of mares drop out of the production every year: they either die on the pastures or are sent to EU-approved slaughterhouses when they no longer become pregnant.

    New video footage obtained in Argentina and Uruguay in January and April 2018 clearly shows that 2.5 years after the first publication about PMSG production was released, the abuse of mares producing the valuable hormone still continues. Despite the allegations of the import companies to have taken control of the situation with trainings, audits and new manuals (which are not legally binding). And despite the new manual of good animal welfare practices for PMSG production introduced by the Uruguayan ministry in June 2017. What has changed are the methods of abuse. While in 2015, the mares were hit on their heads with sticks and wooden boards, today they are abused with iron hooks or cruelly mistreated by having their genitals stabbed with sticks. Injured, sick or emaciated mares still do not receive veterinary treatment but are left to their own devices on vast forest pastures. The new footage clearly proves that the blood farmers are not interested in animal welfare, transparency or controllability, but simply in maintaining their “big business” as profitable as possible.

    The legal situation of PMSG production

    The production of PMSG takes place in a legal grey area: officially, the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries in Uruguay and the SENASA (Servicio Nacional de Sanidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria) in Argentina are responsible for the supervision of PMSG production. In Argentina however, legal foundations for controls are still missing. The Uruguayan ministry published an animal welfare manual for PMSG production in June 2017. However, it contains mainly non-binding recommendations instead of mandatory requirements and has considerable loopholes. For example, it is not defined how much and how often blood can be taken from the mares or how abortions have to be carried out. Foals still can be aborted until day 105 of pregnancy, which corresponds to the existing practice. It is obvious that this new manual is insufficient to protect blood mares. The newest footage from Uruguay shows that not even the insufficient provisions of the manual are complied with or enforced.

     

    Guidelines of the OIE and EU Commission only exist for meat production but not for the production of animal by-products, including blood serum. The buyers of PMSG, among them European pharmaceutical companies, have so far not expressed interest in the introduction of binding laws. After all, they also profit from this legal loophole: the production of PMSG would be far less profitable without abortions and with restrictions on the volume and frequency of blood extractions.

    4. PMSG-containing products
    and manufacturers

     

    Products:

    • Syncrostim

    Manufacturer: Ceva Santé Animale (France)
    Use: Intramuscular application in non-cycling cattle (cows and heifers) and sheep for induction and synchronisation of oestrus and ovulation
    Origin of PMSG: Europe

    • Fertipig

    Manufacturer: Ceva Santé Animale (France)
    Use: For weaning sows - induction and synchronisation of oestrus within 7 days following the treatment; reduction of the weaning-to-oestrus interval; treatment of seasonal anoestrus
    Origin of PMSG: Europe

    • Gestavet

    Manufacturer: Laboratorios Hipra (Spain)
    Use: Induction and synchronisation of oestrus in pigs
    Origin of PMSG: South America

    •  P.G. 600

    Manufacturer: MSD Animal Health
    Use: Induction of oestrus after weaning of piglets, also after longer anoestrus; larger litter sizes; induction and synchronisation of oestrus in prepubertal gilts
    Origin of PMSG: Europe 

    • Suigonan

    Manufacturer: Intervet/MSD Animal Health
    Use: Induction of oestrus after weaning of piglets, also after longer anoestrus; larger litter sizes; induction and synchronisation of oestrus in prepubertal gilts
    Origin of PMSG: Europe

    Manufacturers of products containing PMSG:

     

    MSD Animal Health (Merck)/Intervet

    After years of investigative work by TSB|AWF, and hundreds of thousands of SumOfUs members taking action, pharma giant MSD/Merck completely ceased the trade with blood farms in South America since the beginning of 2017 and now purchases PMSG only from Europe.

    Success announcement of SumOfUs from July 2017: https://actions.sumofus.org/a/merck-horse-blood

     

    IDT Biologika GmbH, Dessau-Rosslau, Germany

    In 2019, the animal health division of IDT Biologika was purchased by the French company Ceva Santé Animale.

    On 17th July 2018, the pharma company IDT Biologika announced to stop the import of PMSG from blood farms in South America. A further TV report about the cruel production methods in South America had been announced by the German TV channel ARD for the evening of the 17th July. After IDT’s press release, the TV report was postponed at short notice.

    https://www.mz-web.de/dessau-rosslau/tierschuetzer-zufrieden-idt-steigt-aus-umstrittenem-import-von-pferdehormon-aus-30977572

    The report of the ARD programme FAKT was broadcasted on 28th August 2018:

    https://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/politik/gesellschaft/umwelt/hormon-pmsg-tierquaeler-pferdeblut-schweinezucht-suedamerika-100.html

    The consumer organisation SumOfUs had been collecting signatures since 2016 in order to persuade IDT Biologika to stop imports of PMSG from South America. On 19th April 2017, representatives of TSB|AWF and SumOfUs tried to hand over the collected signatures on site in Dessau-Rosslau and invited the management of IDT to a dialogue. Without success. IDT refused any discussion:

    http://www.mz-web.de/dessau-rosslau/demo-vor-idt-biologika-tierschuetzer-protestieren-gegen-pferdequal--26730240

    Success announcement of SumOfUs from July 2018: https://www.sumofus.org/media/consumer-group-applauds-germanys-idt-biologika-for-cutting-ties-with-torturous-horse-blood-farms-in-south-america/

     

    Ceva Santé Animale, Libourne, France

    Ceva Santé Animale was founded in France in 1999 and is the world’s 7th-largest veterinary health company, focused on research, development, production and marketing of pharmaceutical products and vaccines for companion animals, livestock, swine and poultry. Its 2015 sales exceeded 856 million Euros. Today, it employs more than 3,800 people in 44 countries. Its headquarters are in Libourne (Gironde). Ceva’s focus areas in the field of farm animals are reproduction and injectable antibiotics.

    Until August 2018, Ceva purchased PMSG from the company Syntex in Argentina. After repeated media reports about the mistreatment of mares in the blood farm Syntex, Ceva announced on 3rd August 2018 to stop sourcing PMSG from South America.

    http://www.cevavousrepond.com/

    In 2019, Ceva acquired the veterinary business of the German company IDT Biologika and took over IDT’s contracts with European PMSG suppliers, including a stud farm in Germany.

     

    Laboratorios Hipra, Amer (Girona), Spain

    Laboratorios HIPRA SA, a family company with a 60-year history, has its headquarters in Spain and currently has 27 branch offices worldwide, two production sites (Spain & Brazil) and three research sites (Spain, USA & Brazil). HIPRA is exclusively specialized in products for farm animals. 

    According to a confidential, reliable source, Laboratorios HIPRA SA imports PMSG from South America (Uruguay). So far, the company has refused all conversations with TSB|AWF and journalists.

     

    Zoetis, Inc. USA

    Zoetis is the largest global animal health company. The company was a subsidiary of Pfizer, the world's largest drug maker, but it is now a completely independent company. It was founded in 1952 and has its headquarters in New Jersey, USA. Twenty-eight sites in eleven countries make up Zoetis’ manufacturing network: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoetis

    Zoetis purchases PMSG from the blood farm Syntex SA in Argentina. In 2015, Zoetis signed an asset purchase and manufacturing agreement with Syntex. In South America Zoetis sells Syntex’ own brand Novormon, while the import of PMSG to Europe was stopped in 2016.