Foal Play

Foal Play

by Dot Hayes

Chances are that if you are seeking relief from menopausal symptoms, your doctor will suggest Premarin, a “natural” estrogen substitute. The drug, which doctors have been prescribing for 50 years, is extracted from the urine of pregnant mares. It’s recently come to light that an estimated 75,000 foals a year are slaughtered as unwanted by-products of the manufacturing process for America’s most widely prescribed drug.

The use of horses as urine-producing machines came to the attention of physicians, patients, and the animal protection movement, in 1992 when Ayerst Organics, a Canadian-based company and sole manufacturer of the drug, announced a $123 million expansion in its yearly report. According to the report, Ayerst expects to triple its output in preparation for the approximately 20 million female baby boomers poised on the menopause threshold.

Currently, about 80,000 mares each year are kept pregnant to produce the estrogen-laden urine. The foals born to these mares are slaughtered and sold on the Japanese and European markets for human consumption. The death tolls of the foals could rise to 200,000 with Ayerst’s expansion plans, according to the New York Post.

In addition to the slaughter of the foals, animal rights groups are protesting the abusive conditions to which the mares are subjected. The mares are strapped and tethered in cement-floored stalls about 4 feet wide and 5 feet long, according to the Fri ends of Animals, an international, nonprofit organization based in Darien Connecticut. Straps attached to the ceiling firmly hold a rubber cup onto the mare’s urethra to catch the precious urine.

The horses are exercised about one half hour each week. “Their front legs are often swollen from standing in one place,” says Elizabeth Carlyle, coordinator of the Manitoba Animal Rights Coalition based in Winnipeg. “They hit their heads against the wa ll of their stalls out of boredom. They look worn.” No laws or permits oversee the industry, except Ayerst’s “Recommended Code of Practice.”

Premarin is so widely prescribed because it is the oldest of the estrogen substitutes and is considered “natural.” Today, numerous effective synthetics made from soybean and Mexican yams, such as Estrace (the second most popular estrogen, on the market for 18 years) are easily found. Women who choose to take estrogen substitutes have the option of asking their doctors to choose a synthetic alternative to Premarin.