PMU Ranch Numbers Reduced

Because of a reduction in the number of prescriptions being written for hormone replacement therapy in women, and because of recent federal approval of a lower-dose hormone replacement medication, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals met with ranchers who supply the raw product (pregnant mare urine, or PMU) on Oct. 10 and announced that the number of ranches under contract for 2004 would be reduced from 409 to 264. Of the 145 ranches that will no longer be collecting urine, 43 voluntarily took a "buyout" program, and 102 were non-voluntary participants, said Norm Luba, executive director of the North American Equine Ranching Information Council (NAERIC).

The Wyeth program will pay ranchers 100% of 2004's contract, plus another 50% to ensure proper care and maintenance of horses (paid only if ranchers keep up veterinary and company inspections), said Luba. The ranchers received an additional 17% payment as a retirement contribution. Wyeth also has established a $3.7 million fund to help ranchers ship horses which will no longer be used in the PMU industry to legitimate, non-slaughter sales outside the Prairie provinces of Canada. NAERIC will check into sales and make sure they are legitimate, and that the horses are not being sent to a known "slaughter sale." Horses will be shipped in groups of about 20-25 once legitimate sales or individuals are identified.

An estimated 10,000-18,000 horses could come on the market in the next year because of the reduction in ranches under contract to Wyeth, said Luba. "The suggestion, however, that just because the contracts are cut back there will be a commensurate cutback in the number of horses is unfounded," said Luba. "These are agricultural people who have bred horses for generations and will continue to be in the horse, cattle, and cereal grains businesses. One rancher said his sport horses were selling so well that he would continue in his cross-breeding program even without the Wyeth contracts."

This news didn't come as a big surprise to the ranchers, as the FDA approved the low-dose hormone replacement therapy in June.

Animal rights groups have been exploiting these cutbacks as a means of promoting their causes and raising funds. However, not all groups who would like to end the PMU industry are falling into that trap. For example, the HorseAid web site says: "What we don't need is individuals and groups running around yelling '20,000 pregnant mares are going to slaughter' and other such inflammatory statements. This just adds a lot of unnecessary confusion and misinformation to an already volatile situation. As of Oct. 22, 2003, there has been no significant increase in the number of mares or foals going to feedlots or slaughter sources. Any individual or group saying different has a vested profit-motivated interest in saying so."

Luba said, "Our paramount and immediate attention is twofold. We are working to assist affected ranchers in this difficult and emotional transition, and we are simultaneously developing plans to help the ranchers identify options for their mares, many of whom are registered, quality broodmares which will no longer be involved in the program.

"We already have commitments for many of the mares," he added. "My staff is working diligently to identify viable options should the ranchers wish to sell or place their mares."

Anyone interested in buying horses from NAERIC ranchers can contact NAERIC at PO Box 43968, Louisville, Ky. 40253; 502/245-0425; fax 502/245-0438.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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