”Blood farms” and the true cost of cheap meat | DW Documentary

A hormone taken from the blood of pregnant mares is used to make pork production more efficient. It ensures that sows on industrial farms come into heat at the same time. But the blood extraction is excessive and the mares often suffer ill treatment.

Shocking footage has been filmed at “blood farms” in Argentina, Uruguay and Iceland – it shows mares being beaten into stalls to have blood extracted. The mares are suffering this abuse to keep pork prices down for consumers internationally. The footage, filmed by the German group Animal Welfare Foundation, shows the weekly ordeal that the horses are put through. Their blood contains a hormone called Pregnant Mare Serum Gonadotropin or PMSG, which is used in industrial pig farming. It allows the entire cycle of a herd of sows to be synchronized: the sows come into heat at the same time, they can then be artificially inseminated together and all give birth at the same time too.

The blood is harvested from mares in South America or in Iceland, and is then processed in places like Germany where it can be sold as a hormone treatment. Prof. Stephanie Krämer, an animal welfare expert at the University of Giessen, has seen the footage from Argentina and Uruguay. She fears that the poor condition of the mares is intended: “Basically, it’s all about efficiency”, she says. “Experience has shown that the more emaciated the mares are, meaning the worse their condition, including their nutritional status, the higher the PMSG level.”
And yet pork can actually be farmed economically without the use of the hormone. In the organic sector, its use is banned anyway. But even conventional farmers could work without it. Prof. Axel Wehrend conducts research at the University of Giessen on the reproduction of livestock. He says: “We looked for commercial farms that do not use PMSG. And we found that many farms manage just as well without PMSG as with it.”
More and more suppliers of PMSG supplements are now working with farms in Iceland. But the conditions there are hardly better than in South America – as evidenced by footage from the Animal Welfare Foundation.
Nadine Henke is a veterinarian and breeds pigs herself – without using PMSG. She sees a problem in the way that farm animal medicines are marketed. It’s usually veterinarians who introduce the drugs directly. Many farmers aren’t aware of the process involved in obtaining the hormone. And as a consumer, it’s very difficult to know exactly how the pork you’re buying was farmed.

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