Animal Welfare Information Center Bulletin, Summer 1999, Vol. 10 No. 1-2

PMU Ranching Demonstrates Benefits of Self-Regulation

Norman K. Luba
North American Equine Ranching Information Council
Louisville, Kentucky


The History of PMU Ranching

Since 1941, the estrogens in pregnant mares' urine (PW) have been used to produce a leading estrogen replacement therapy prescribed to millions of women for the treatment of menopause and the management of osteoporosis. PMU ranches, located in the Pra irie Provinces of Canada and in North Dakota, are primarily family owned and operated farms that are independently contracted to provide the raw material needed to manufacture this prescription medication. Unfortunately, PMU ranching has failed to receive the level of recognition that it deserves, largely because it was little known before a group of animal activists, opposed to all uses of animals, campaigned against it.

Photo:  Mare wearing specially designed PMU collection pouch.

PMU Ranching: Continuous Improvement and Innovation

Today, more than 400 experienced horse breeders in Canada and North Dakota are involved in PMU ranching and are responsible for the care, management, and breeding of the horses whose estrogen goes into the production of this important medication.

During its development, PMU ranching has become a model of self-regulation in the agricultural industry, using a system of extensive checks and balances that ensure ranchers strive for the highest standards of practice rather than simply abiding by ba seline laws and regulations. At the same time, PMU ranchers have continually sought to increase equine care knowledge so that PMU ranching practices can be state of the art.

For example, PMU ranchers have supported several equine behavioral research projects at leading veterinary schools designed to provide management recommendations that may be applied not only to the PMU practices, but also to the equine industry at lar ge.

PMU ranchers have also endeavored to identify the best veterinary minds and equine experts available, in order to objectively and fairly review the industry and its management practices. Organizations including the American Association of Equine Pract itioners (AAEP), the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), and the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) were invited to assess the industry and provide input and guidance for the future health and welfare of the horses under our stewardship. These organizations were overwhelmingly supportive of our programs and the system of checks and balances that govern PMU ranching.

It is particularly important to note that virtually every knowledgeable equine professional who has been involved with PMU ranching has recognized the outstanding care given to these horses. As with any industry, improvements can be, and always are be ing, made. However, from a management standpoint, the model of self-regulation and incentive-based improvement directives used in this industry is one that has been remarkably successful and can be replicated in many other agricultural and commercial ente rprises.


Checks and Balances Ensure High-Quality Care for Horses

PMU ranching has more checks and balances to ensure animal care and welfare than virtually any other livestock industry, making it one of the most regulated and closely inspected equine-related activities in the world.


Contract Approval and the Code of Practice

All ranches contract independently with Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories to provide the estrogens in PMU. Before receiving a contract, all ranching facilities are examined and approved by company inspectors. PMU ranchers are contractually obligated to adhere to the Recommended Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Horses in PMU Operations, a document that sets the standard for all ranch procedures. The Code was developed in 1990 to codify previously adopted ranching practices. Company inspec tors, agriculture/equine specialists, and veterinarians all refer to the Code's guidelines when inspecting or reviewing PMU ranches.

"The PNW Code is the most visible, the most used, and the most complied with, of all the Codes of Practice for farm animals."
-- Honorable Harry J. Enns, Minister of Agriculture, Manitoba, 1996


Photo:  Broodmares grazing.

Multiple Levels of Inspection

PMU ranches undergo state and provincial reviews conducted by equine welfare experts.

LEVEL I - Pharmaceutical Company Field Inspectors

Wyeth-Ayerst employs eight field inspectors, two assistant supervisors, and one supervisor who inspect ranches at monthly intervals, throughout the entire year. The field inspectors record and document their findings and report to the Managing Veterin arian for review and analysis.

LEVEL 2 - Veterinary Herd Health Review Program

PMU ranchers' contracts require three herd health reviews on each farm during each collection season by independent, practicing veterinarians. Thus, veterinary care on PMU ranches exceeds the norm for the U.S. "household-owned" horse population, as re ported by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Center for Information Management in their 1997 report. In contrast to the fact that 100 percent of PMU ranches are reviewed by a veterinarian at least three times during the course of a year, the AVMA reported that more than 40 percent of U.S. "household-owned" horses did not receive a visit from a veterinarian.

The herd health review program was developed in conjunction with, and is monitored by, a committee of I I individuals; eight of those being equine veterinarians officially appointed by the Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Associat ions and the North Dakota Board of Animal Health. There are more than 90 independent veterinarians participating in the herd health review program.

LEVEL 3 - Open Access by Provincial and State Veterinarians

Veterinarians from the agriculture departments in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and North Dakota also have access to the ranches, and PMU ranchers welcome unannounced spot inspections or simple visits from these experts. Under the [Manitoba] Animal Care Act, authority for the investigation of public concerns regarding animal neglect, abuse, or cruelty is vested in the Veterinary Services Branch of Manitoba Agriculture. Department staff have the authority to investigate complaints. Similar authoriza tion exists for the Saskatchewan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the Alberta SPCA, and, in North Dakota, under the North Dakota Century Code Chapter 36-21.1. During the past 4 years, there has only been one minor complaint filed in any of these areas against a PMU operator, and it was immediately resolved.

LEVEL 4 - Assessment by International Veterinary Experts

An international team of equine experts, consisting of veterinary representatives from the AAEP, CVMA, and IRPH, were invited to review PMU ranches during the 1996-97 collection season to observe the health and welfare of the horses. A consensus repor t was produced in May 1997, and is available. To quote from the conclusion of that report regarding PMU ranching's response to the activist campaign: "Generally, the horses are very well-cared for. The ranchers and the company have responded in a progress ive and proactive manner to both professional and public interests. Observations for improvement have been taken seriously and continue to be acted upon by Wyeth-Ayerst and the PMU ranchers. The public should be assured that the care and welfare of the ho rses involved in the production of an estrogen replacement medication is good, and is closely monitored."

LEVEL 5 - Guidance by Leading Equine Industry Experts

In addition to the system of checks and balances in place, some of North America's leading equine experts oversee the programs, research, and activities pertaining to PMU ranching. The Equine Management Group, established at the request of Wyeth-Ayers t and the ranchers, prioritizes scientific/educational goals and advises the company's veterinarians on protocol development and study design, approves all final reports, and reviews operations at the company's training and research facility. The Equine A dvisory Board provides scientific expertise in the areas of nutrition, exercise physiology, internal medicine and behavior to the Equine Management Group. Both groups include leading experts from around North America and equine veterinary specialists from major universities.


Photo:  Typical PMU barn setup.

Marketing Incentive Programs

Finally, to complement PMU ranching's checks and balances, the North American Equine Ranching Information Council (NAERIC), the association that represents the PMU ranchers, has established several initiatives that help reward ranchers for producing o utstanding animals. While programs to ensure the breeding of high-quality horses are not unique to PMU ranching, the level of commitment to bolster these initiatives is noteworthy. Consider as an example, the richest 2-year-old pleasure futurity in Canada , the Manitoba 50/50 Super Horse Event, with PMU ranch bred horses being named champions the last 3 out of 5 years, and the quality of horses, "the best kept secret in North America," becomes evident.

Through NAERIC, the following programs have been instituted to ensure that PMU ranching is able to realize its full potential and that all those involved receive the appropriate benefits that this industry has to offer:



Over the past 5 or 6 years, animal activists have attacked this little-known segment of the equine ranching community in hopes of preventing these horse breeders from continuing their work. Despite these challenges, the industry has both survived and flourished. As PMU ranchers work to demonstrate to the public that their practices are sound and the levels of care and welfare on PMU ranches are high, an exceptional system of self-regulation has emerged. The fact that many knowledgeable and informed ve terinary and animal welfare organizations have inspected the ranches and issued highly favorable reports is a testament to this self-regulation and PMU ranching's incentive-based management practices.

With the continued input of veterinarians and other equine professionals, PMU ranching remains an outstanding partnership between horse breeding and women's health care, and it will continue to set the care, welfare, research, and continuous improveme nt standards for other aspects of equine ranching.

Norman K. Luba is Executive Director of the North American Equine Ranching Information Council (NAERIC), a nonprofit association representing horse breeders and ranchers in North America engaged in the collection of PMU. NAERIC's mission is to pro vide education and research information to its members as well as factual and accurate information about this segment of the ranching industry to the horse industry and the general public.

This article appeared in the Animal Welfare Information Center Bulletin, Volume 10, Numbers 1-2, Summer 1999

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