Fourteen protesters (one dressed as a horse) gathered in front of a pharmaceutical store in Calgary’s downtown core on Mon., June 14. They delivered pamphlets, letters and a fictitious yellow-coloured beverage called “Tinkle” to people walking by. The cause of this protest? The menopausal drug Premarin.
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Premarin, made by Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, is one of the most prescribed drugs in North America. It is used in estrogen replacement therapy to manage symptoms of menopause, including osteoporosis.
According to PETA International Grassroots campaign coordinator Colleen O’Brien, most women don’t know the source of one of the main ingredients in the drug.
“The reason we do these demonstrations is because most women who take this drug don’t know it comes from horse urine,” said O’Brien. “The ones who do don’t always put together the way horses are treated and killed in the process.”
“Premarin comes from horse estrogen and the estrogen of pregnant horses,” stated O’Brien. “Approximately 75,000 pregnant mares are tied in stalls for six months of their pregnancies.”
Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories publicist Audrey Ashby denied any abuse.
“Individual experts have looked at the care of the horses and confirmed a standard of care,” she said. “We have affirmed individual reviews and validation of the program.”
According to Wyeth-Ayerst, a team of equine veterinarians, including representatives from the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, wrote a consensus report stating horses at the pregnant mare urine farms received humane care, and compliance with a Code of Practice set by various Provincial Ministries of Agriculture and State Boards of Animal Health was generally good.
According to Ashby, Premarin does not contain horse urine
in its final product. The estrogen is extracted from the urine and blended with other estrogens in 125 manufacturing steps. She also said ranchers who work with Wyeth-Ayerst must maintain a code of practice in order to receive a contract with the company. Vet the protesters contend that the treatment of the mares at the farms is cruel and damaging.
“The stalls are so small they can’t turn around at all,” said O’Brien. “They can’t even take a few steps or lie down comfortably because they have rubber bags stuck to their groins 24 hours a day to collect their urine.”
According to PETA, this sort of assembly-line setup may cause permanent physical damage to horses.
“The bags cause chaffing and sores on the mares’ legs,” said O’Brien. “The mares tend to develop lameness, foot rot and lower limb abnormalities from standing when they’re heavy with their foals, often six months at a time. They’re denied free access to water so their urine will be more concentrated. This lack of water tends to lead to liver damage.”
According to O’Brien, foals are unwanted products of the system, and most are slaughtered. The meat is sold to Europe and Japan where horse meat is considered a delicacy.
Ashby cautions against believing all of PETA’s claims.
“The animal activist campaign is moving to eliminate all animal-based products,” Ashby said. “They often distribute materials that have inaccuracies.”
According to peta, alternatives to Premarin are available. These drugs are usually made from beets, yam and soy products.
“Really all it takes is to inform women, and they’re very eager to get an alternative,” said O’Brien. “Because they’re not being told by the doctors and pharmacies, they’re usually pretty upset when they find out that they could have taken one of many other drugs.”
“Not all estrogen products are the same,” counters Ashby. “No other product has the all the components Premarin has. It is the most studied estrogen [supplement]. Few products have as large a safety profile.”
“People should choose their medication not from allegations from animal activist groups, but from physicians,” Ashby added.