New Documentary Investigates Blood Farms in Iceland as Calls to End PMSG Production Intensify

Friday, June 9, 2023 - 07:00
Investigation Category: 

A new must-see documentary, Iceland – the hidden blood business has just been released by Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF) and Tierschutzbund Zuerich (TSB), long-time international advocacy partners of Animals’ Angels. Through a series of interviews woth local farmers, veterinarians, animal advocates, tourism professionals, and industry experts, the film is a timely follow-up to Iceland - Land of the 5,000 blood mares, which was released in 2021. 

The new documentary offers an unflinching account of the role Icelandic blood farms play in the production of pregnant mare serum gonadotropin (PMSG), a hormone which is present only in the blood of mares during early pregnancy.

PMSG has been used by industrial animal breeders for over 40 years to increase the fertility of sows and other farmed animals but is now considered by many to be an outdated solution.

Experts interviewed for the film, including Gunnar Sturluson, President of the FEIF International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations, make it clear that the use of PMSG should be part of the past and are advocates for a total ban on the hormone’s production and sale.

Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, director of the Icelandic Tourist Board, also expresses well-founded concern that blood production damages Iceland’s image as a country of horses and could tarnish the reputation of the entire tourism sector.

These experts aren’t alone in their concerns about PMSG.

According to the film, a recent public survey shows that sixty-six percent of Iceland’s population are against the extraction of PMSG on blood farms.

The public’s awareness of PMSG, and its subsequent outrage, was raised after the release of Iceland – Land of the 5,000 blood mares. The original film exposed the inhumane process the blood farms use to extract PMSG, explaining that obtaining a profitable amount of PMSG from a pregnant mare involves a brutal, unending cycle of bloodletting and abuse.

The horror of the blood farms is once again revealed in Iceland – the hidden blood business, as hard-to-watch footage of pregnant mares held at the blood farms show the horses being beaten as they struggle in battered and stained restraint boxes.

Ending the abuse inflicted on Iceland’s horses has long been an urgent goal of Animals’ Angels and their EU partners. And concern for the thousands of mares held on blood farms in the country extends far beyond Iceland’s borders.

In the European Union, which is the main market for Iceland’s PMSG, resistance against the import of PMSG has been growing for years. Companies such as the Meura stud farm, the largest Haflinger stud farm in Europe, decided to end its production in 2022. Abroad, the Argentinian pharmaceutical company Syntex S.A. halted EU distribution of Fixplan, its PMSG preparation, until further notice. And just last week, the Danish Veterinary Association advised against the use of PMSG, citing animal welfare concerns.

Unfortunately, while growing outrage prompted Iceland’s government to draft legislation around the issue in 2021, the new legislation has not stopped the blood farms from operating as usual because final legislative decisions on the issue of blood farms and the sale of PMSG will not be made until 2025.

The Icelandic government is under heavy pressure from pharmaceutical company Isteka, the Icelandic biotech company that buys mare blood from local blood farms in order to extract PMSG and sell the hormone abroad, earning in excess of ten million euros a year in the process.

Arnthor Gudlaugsson, the Isteka manager of pharmaceutical business as well as other farmers who earn blood money from Isteka, did not make themselves available for an interview with the filmmakers or provide any comments.

Sigurborg Daðadóttir, chief veterinarian at MAST, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority that oversees animal welfare laws, was the only resource willing to talk to AWF. Upon viewing disturbing footage taken at the blood farms, she expressed doubts that, “anyone would have done the things in the video if an inspector had been there.”

Inga Sæland, Member of the Parliament of Iceland explained that “Foreign lobby groups such as sheep and pig farmers from France, Spain, Italy and elsewhere submitted statements about the bill because they were against it. That kind of thing never happens in such a small country, and it proves the scale of the problem.”

The documentary ends with a plea to the Icelandic government to “wake up to the suffering of animals and not sacrifice Iceland’s image to the interests of a few pharmaceutical companies and an outdated hormone.”

Join Our Mission to Put an End to Blood Farms

As Iceland – the hidden blood business makes painfully clear, the blood extracted from pregnant mares at blood farms is collected under brutal conditions and comes at an unacceptable price. The barbaric practice must come to an end. Animals’ Angels joins AWF and TSB, along with all our international advocacy partners, in calling on the Icelandic government to ban the extraction of blood from mares for the purpose of obtaining PMSG.

We hope all our supporters will watch Iceland – the hidden blood business and sign the petition here:

Also, please share the information in this report with as many people as possible. Together, along with animal advocacy partners worldwide, we can put an end to blood farms for good.