“Making biologics and therapeutics from these samples is a niche industry and is often done in regions with little regulation or veterinary oversight.”
According to researchers, there are few international guidelines that contain recommendations for the care of horses that are kept for the production of medicines.
An international team of scientists has developed a number of recommendations to ensure the welfare of horses used for industrial blood serum or urine production.
Xavier Manteca Vilanova and his colleagues noted in a comment published in Animals magazine that various pharmaceutical products have been made from horse blood and urine for more than a century.
“Making biologics and therapeutics from these samples is a niche industry and often takes place in regions with little regulation or veterinary oversight,” they noted.
“While horses have been used in the biologics manufacturing process for many years, their welfare has only recently been an issue,” they said.
To ensure the welfare of these horses, they set out to develop appropriate industry guidelines.
Horses, they said, are particularly useful in making therapeutics for the manufacture of therapeutics because of their relatively large volume of blood (or urine), which can be repeatedly collected and used to isolate antibodies, hormones, or other proteins, and because of their general ease considered human use in handling and maintenance.
“With the exception of the production of urine for pregnant mares and antidotes for snakes, there are no international or industrial guidelines for much of the work to extract medicinal substances from horses,” they said. The authors also noted a lack of guidance for foals born as a result of pregnancy.
The World Health Organization has general guidelines for making antidotes against snakes. However, the focus is on the safety of substances made for human consumption rather than animal welfare.
The authors noted that the use of pregnant mares for urine collection (PMU) and estrogen production in the past has received the attention of animal activists due to concerns about insufficient attention to welfare.
For example, in Canada, the industry has revised the practices and expectations for farms managing horses, and PMU production is currently being overseen by the Equine Ranching Advisory Board in Canada. Compliance is mandatory for participating horse ranchers.
The authors found that Western society, and veterinarians in particular, in general, is largely ignorant of the use of horses to extract substances for use in this area.
“These are niche industries with relatively few horse numbers (tens of thousands) compared to the billions of dollars worth of the millions of horses that exist in the global equine industry.”
In the distant past, pharmaceutical companies normalized the use of horses to obtain serum by making films or pictures available to the public about hygienic conditions on farms or in research facilities.
“The attention of animal activist groups has left farms and various industries unwilling to discuss their challenges more broadly.
“Regardless of the number of horses involved, it is important that guidelines are in place to ensure the care and wellbeing of these animals that are so important to human health and animal production.”
In their guidelines, researchers addressed animal welfare and ethical considerations, considerations related to husbandry and care, horse procurement, housing, social contact, exercise, feeding, transportation, identification, handling, training, veterinary care and hoof care, and euthanasia.
They also included collection procedures and welfare issues related to the quantities procured.
“Until certain products cannot be found of non-animal origins, the use of the horse will likely continue. The value of these horses, as well as their sensation, makes it important that producers ensure the best possible welfare with programs such as the one outlined in this paper. “
The authors included Vilanova, who works at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain; Bonnie Beaver from Texas A&M University; Mette Uldahl with Vejle Equine Practice in Denmark; and Patricia Turner with Global Animal Welfare & Training in Wilmington, Massachusetts, and the University of Guelph in Canada.
Manteca Vilanova, X .; Beaver, B .; Uldahl, M .; Turner, PV Recommendations for Ensuring Good Wellbeing in Horses Used for Industrial Blood, Serum, or Urine Production. Animals 2021, 11, 1466. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11051466
The study, published under a Creative Commons Licensecan be read Here.