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In Iceland, they bleed horses well

Near Selfoss, a "blood farm" ensures the collection from horses of a blood hormone used by the veterinary industry.

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In Iceland, they bleed horses well

Near Selfoss, a "blood farm" ensures the collection from horses of a blood hormone used by the veterinary industry.

A practice that makes animal defenders jump.

Since the release of videos of abuse a year ago on YouTube, the sector has been in the crosshairs -- and anonymity is essential when it comes to speaking to the press.

"There is no way to make the public fully understand this type of breeding," the boss of the place, fatalistic, told AFP. "The public in general is too sensitive".

Blood collection -- several liters per animal -- aims to extract equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG or PMSG), a hormone naturally produced by pregnant mares.

Packaged and then marketed by the veterinary industry, it improves fertility in other livestock (cows, sheep, sows, etc.) throughout the world.

Foals are mostly sent to the slaughterhouse.

- Shocking images -

Along with Argentina and Uruguay, Iceland is one of the few countries in the world, and the only one in Europe, where this controversial practice takes place. Farms are also reported in Russia, Mongolia and China.

The images broadcast last year of weakened horses and employees brutalizing mares caused shock waves abroad but also on the island.

Hit, sometimes bitten by dogs, some horses struggle until exhaustion.

In the farm near Selfoss, grouped in single file in a specially equipped wooden structure, the mares wait calmly.

Each in turn, they enter boxes. Planks are arranged around their legs to prevent any movement, then a halter placed on their head to raise it.

“Horses (…) can be stressed, agitated. So all these restraints are essentially to protect them and prevent them from injuring themselves in the box”, explains a 29-year-old Polish veterinarian, also under cover of anonymity.

Local anesthesia is first applied before introducing a large cannula into the jugular vein. Gestures that only a qualified veterinarian is authorized to perform.

"It also allows us to see the vein well because you have to know exactly where it is (...) to inject precisely", he adds.

In a few minutes, up to five liters of blood are collected per mare in this operation which will be repeated every week for eight weeks.

- Lucrative activity -

The activity, which lasts from the end of July to the beginning of October, is lucrative: the Icelandic operator of Selfoss, also a lawyer, draws around 9 to 10 million crowns (between 63,500 and 70,700 euros) per year.

“In many cases, mares show signs of short-term discomfort during blood sampling,” says Sigrídur Björnsdóttir, equine specialist at the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).

But "this is not considered a serious impairment unless the symptoms are severe, prolonged or the mare shows signs of chronic stress."

In 2021, Iceland had 119 blood farms and nearly 5,400 pregnant mares bred for the sole purpose of being bled, a figure that has more than tripled in ten years.

The eCG/PMSG hormone is processed into powder form by the Icelandic company Isteka.

The largest producer in Europe, biotech processes around 170 tonnes of blood per year. Probably less this year: after the publication of the videos, some operators left the profession.

"Farmers have been hard hit and shocked," said Isteka chief executive Arnthor Gudlaugsson from his offices in Reykjavik.

If he recognizes cases that are problematic, Mr. Gudlaugsson believes that the video, shot with a hidden camera, was designed "to give too negative a description (...) of the process".

The images in any case led to the opening of an investigation by the police and made it possible to identify the farms involved.

All farms were inspected this summer without any being forced to close.

The scandal has also sparked a debate in Iceland where most people have discovered the existence of this activity, which has been practiced locally since 1979.

"It makes us think about our position in terms of ethics," Rosa Lif Darradottir, vice-president of Iceland's brand new animal welfare association, told AFP.

"Making a drug (for) production animals just to enhance their fertility beyond their natural ability... The cause is not a noble one," she says.

The amount of blood collected is also pointed out.

"It's purely and simply the mistreatment of animals and we have a word for it: animal cruelty," opposition MP Inga Sæland told AFP. Many times.

New stricter regulations came into effect at the beginning of August. Valid for three years, it should allow the authorities to decide on the future of the "blood farms".

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