Stable Relationships: Why Pfizer Is Suddenly at Center of Horse-Slaughter Debate

Last Updated Jun 23, 2011 10:30 AM EDT

Pfizer (PFE) has been dragged into a nasty debate about whether too many horses are killed for meat because its Premarin hormone replacement therapy is made from pregnant mare's urine, and thus its manufacture creates a large source of unwanted foals, according to the Equine Welfare Alliance.

The company came under the microscope because Pfizer's senior director of equine veterinary services, Tom Lenz, is also the immediate past president of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, which advocates care for roughly 170,000 horses that are abandoned each year. Lenz is set to give a call-in today for horse-lovers on the issue.

The call-in came on the same day that the General Accountability Office released a report on whether too many horses are sent to slaughterhouses for meat. Congress is waiting for the results of the report before acting on a horse-slaughter bill that could curtail the use of horses for meat. EWA is enraged that Lenz advocates for unwanted horses when, it alleges, his own company is one of the causes of the unwanted horse problem:

Pfizer owns Wythe Pharmaceuticals, the producer of a line of hormone replacement therapy drugs made from pregnant mare urine and is one of the largest producers of excess, poorly bred and untrained foals in North America.
Every year, Wythe contracts farms to breed tens of thousands of mares so that their urine can be collected to make the drugs. ... this process create thousands of excess foals, ...
("Wythe" appears to be a typo for Wyeth.) The drug, Premarin, is actually named after its main ingredient, pregnant mare's urine. You can read a lengthy backgrounder on the issue here.

The horse-slaughter issue is heating up because meat industry lobbyists are hoping Congress will allow U.S. slaughterhouses to increase the amount of horses they kill each year -- thus "solving" the unwanted horse problem. State Rep. Sue Wallis of Wyoming believes that restoring horse slaughterhouses to the U.S. could create 1,000 jobs. Needless to say, horse lovers don't like this one bit.

Pfizer said it does not fund the slaughter of horses born during Premarin production:

... the process does involve collecting and processing urine from pregnant mares. The urine is provided through a network of equine ranchers. Pfizer encourages ranchers with horses no longer involved in the process, including foals, to place them for uses like ranch work, riding, and show. To facilitate this, Pfizer provides funding and assistance to help those producers provide for the health, feeding, and overall welfare of their horses until those horses can be moved into productive markets. This is done through the Equine Placement Fund, which is overseen by Trustees and has an advisory board made up of prominent U.S. and Canadian experts in equine health and welfare. Pfizer does not allow those funds to be used for sending horses to slaughter.
You can read Pfizer's full statement in the comments section, below.

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Image by Flickr user Adrian Parnham, CC.