Pregnant horses abused for their blood in Iceland

Three brown female horses looking into the camera
Mares looking over the barn door. photo: acceptfoto via Canva

Icelandic veterinary authorities have launched an enquiry after a video released by Animal Welfare Foundation/Tierschutzbund Zürich (AWF/TSB) showed cruelty to pregnant horses used for their blood.

Iceland, Argentina and Uruguay are the only three countries in the world that allow farmers to extract blood from pregnant horses at so-called blood farms. Horses are restrained, and liters of blood are taken from them.

The video ‘Land of the 5,000 blood mares’ shows footage of the controversial blood extraction practice at some of Iceland’s 119 blood farms. People are seen beating horses who are weakened after their blood has been taken from them.

The blood contains the hormone PMSG (Pregnant mare serum gonadotropin), which farmers worldwide use to increase fertility in cows, sheep, goats, and pigs. 

Biotech firm Isteka ehf, located in Reykjavik, uses the horses’ blood to create and sell the hormone. AWF/TSB says that the business is worth millions.

“Because the hormone can only be obtained during early pregnancy, the foals are aborted so that the mares can be impregnated twice a year, further adding to their suffering,” AWF/TSB said. 

AWF, along with a coalition of international animal welfare organizations, urged the EU Commission to ban the importation and production of the hormone. Iceland said in a statement the practice was carried out on around 5,400 mares across the country this year.

“This blood mare industry is, to us, a gruesome form of agriculture to say the least,” Inga Saeland, leader of Flokkur Folksins (People’s Party), told Iceland’s news channel RÚV

“We would much rather help farmers who want to carry on in the countryside to move into something completely different. The methods we see in this video, for example, say all that needs to be said,” she added.

Her party will ask for a nationwide ban on blood farms, Saeland said. Animal rights lawyer Árni Stefán Árnason also wants a ban on the blood mare industry.

“We see a man walking around with a blunt instrument and beating the mares to get them into the blood collection booths,” Árni said about the footage made with hidden cameras.

“Dogs are seen chasing the animals and biting them. We see a mare who feels so bad that she finally falls down and is left hanging just by the head. She is pregnant, or has recently given birth, and you can see an employee beating her.”

The video Land of 5,000 blood mares by AWF/TSB:

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