Press release
The HSUS Demands Wyeth Laboratories Take Responsibility for Premarin Horses
October 17, 2003

WASHINGTON – The HSUS today called upon Wyeth Inc. to establish a fund to provide for the reportedly 20,000 or more pregnant mares housed on farms in Western Canada and the Midwest United States whose services are no longer needed because of decreased demand for Premarin™ and related hormone replacement therapies (HRT) derived from the urine of pregnant horses.

According to news reports, Wyeth held an emergency meeting last week of 500 contract ranchers whose horses provide Wyeth, and subsidiaries Wyeth Laboratories and Ayerst Organics with the pregnant mare urine used to produce estrogen for HRT drugs. At the meeting, Wyeth informed the ranchers of its decision to cancel one-third of all contracts while the other two-thirds of producers will be forced to reduce their herds by 35 percent. This will result in 50 percent fewer PMU mares in production. The result of this cutback is that an estimated 20,000 horses will immediately be sent to auction in North America.

“It is frankly unconscionable for Wyeth to make a decision that it knows will adversely affect the lives of these animals without clear procedures in place to deal with the consequences of that decision,” said Martha C. Armstrong, senior vice president of companion animals for The HSUS. “Wyeth has profited for more than 30 years on the backs of these animals. These horses deserve a more fitting end to their ‘service’ than a feedlot or slaughterhouse, which will be the plight for the vast majority of them.”

The HSUS sent a letter to Robert Essner, Wyeth chairman, offering assistance in forming a plan to move all PMU mares and foals from their current quarters to a temporary sanctuary for evaluation and care and, eventually, to placement in future homes as cherished, equine companions.

“Taking just a portion of that profit and immediately dedicating it to establishing a sanctuary fund and over the long term, transitioning these horses to rescue organizations, is Wyeth’s ethical and moral obligation,” Armstrong said.

The HSUS points out that equine sanctuaries and rescue group facilities are already filled to capacity. These groups cannot absorb an influx of about 40,000 horses—20,000 mares and their foals. If a new sanctuary is not established for these horses, most of them will inevitably end up at slaughterhouses. Each year, about 50,000 foals are born out of the PMU industry. With the exception of a very few who end up with rescue organizations, most of the foals are sent to slaughter which feeds an overseas market for horsemeat. The majority of PMU farms are based in western Canada and North Dakota.

Production of this estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) has long been a controversial issue because of the inherent suffering endured by the horses in the process. The urine collection procedure involves confining pregnant mares for six months or more, tethered in a narrow stall with a rubber cup positioned over her vulva to collect the urine flow. The cup is held in place by overhead supports and a partial body harness. The tether and collection apparatus greatly restrict movement, and the mare is unable to turn around or take more than a step or two in any direction. For more on the facts about PMU, horse slaughter and related issues, visit The HSUS Web site at and enter PMU as the search term.

The HSUS is the nation’s largest animal protection organization with more than seven million members and constituents. The HSUS is a mainstream voice for animals, with active programs in companion animals, wildlife and habitat protection, animals in research and farm animals and sustainable agriculture. For nearly 50 years, The HSUS has protected all animals through legislation, litigation, investigation, education, advocacy and fieldwork. The non-profit organization is based in Washington, DC and has 10 regional offices across the country.