Horses Go on the Auction Block After Premarin Sales Decline

Animal rights activists have for years been trying to cajole Wyeth Pharmaceuticals to stop using mares to produce hormone replacement therapy Premarin. Following a decline in sales of Premarin, Wyeth is cutting its ties with hundreds of horse breeders leading animal rights groups to change their tune and lament Wyeth’s sudden abandonment of the farms it relied on.

Following the 2002 report by the Women’s Health Initiative that found relatively modest increases in risk for some health problems among those who took Premarin, sales of the drug dropped like a stone. The WHI study found that women taking the drugs had a 41 percent increased risk of strokes, a 29 percent increased risk of heart attacks, and a 26 percent increased risk of breast cancer.

Orders for Prempro fell from 3.4 million to just 1 million and for Premarin from 6 million to 3.5 million after the study results were announced. Sales of the drugs dropped by 33 percent in the first three quarters of 2003.

As a result, Wyeth cut its business ties with about 100 horse ranchers that account for about 20,000 of the estimated 75,000 horses used in production of the drug. Animal rights groups are now complaining that most the horses will likely end up being slaughtered.

Susan Wagner, president of horse rescue group Equine Associates, told The Saratogian,

What you have in Canada is one big bloodbath. I have never seen anything like this — the cruelty of the pharmacies and the farmers — if you want to call them farmers. Thank God this industry is going down.

Wagner’s group plans to buy as many of the horses as it can and adopt them out in the United States. Wagner said,

We plan to rescue as many of these animals as possible and hope other caring organizations and individuals will do the same. I believe the PMU industry is going down fast. Tragically, as that happens, thousands of mares, foals and stallions will die.

Wyeth’s stock has been hit hard both by the Premarin problems as well as dismal sales for its FluMist influenza vaccine (projected at $140 million in sales, but actual sales end up being in the $9 million range). Regardless, Premarin is unlikely to disappear — Wyeth forecasts that while it will see further erosion in 2004, by the end of the year Premarin sales will still constitute a $1 billion/year market.

Grant Rice, previously associated with EarthSave; Sinikka Crosland of The Responsible Animal Care Society; and others created a group in September called the Women’s Health and Ethics Coalition apparently to start a campaign, “Why, Oh Why, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals . . .?”, to pressure Wyeth to, as a sample letter the group was distributing suggested,

. . . call upon Wyeth Pharmaceuticals to take full and immediate responsibility for the lives of industry horses at risk. I expect your company to purchase and remove all PMU horses from slaughter [sic] plant and other feedlots, and to place them in equine sanctuaries. Furthermore, Wyeth must show accountability by covering all of their maintenance costs until they are relocated to good homes.


HRT decline raises meat-sale fears. Marilyn McCall, Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia), November 29, 2003.

“Why, Oh Why, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals . . . ?” Campaign is Launched. Press Release, Women’s Health and Ethics Coalition, December 28, 2003.

The Last Roundup. Michael Korb, The Saratogian, January 3, 2003.