PMU ranchers feel pinch as cuts announced

The 17 percent reduction in pregnant mares’ urine production will affect four ranches in Manitoba and one in Saskatchewan.  |  Brenda Hunter photo

The company that contracts pregnant mares’ urine reduces the number of ranches from which it will buy product

Pfizer Canada’s cuts to pregnant mares’ urine production will force four Manitoba ranches and one Saskatchewan ranch out of the industry.

The 17 percent reduction translates into 33,000 grams of estrogen. Ranchers are paid per gram of estrogen and not on the volume of urine produced.

The reduction affects three ranches in southwestern Manitoba, one in the Interlake region of Manitoba, and one in Saskatchewan. Of those five, three producers raised registered Quarter horses, one bred purebred Percherons, and one raised sport horses.

Equine ranchers, who operate PMU farms, are contracted by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer to collect PMU, a source of hormones used in estrogen therapies for menopausal women. Pfizer Canada’s manufacturing facility is located in Brandon.

“Pfizer has initiated a review of its inventory management and we have determined that we are able to satisfy market demand by working with fewer ranchers,” Pfizer Canada said in a March 29 news release.

“As a result, the company has decided to reduce the size of the current PMU rancher network by five ranches. Pfizer values its network of ranchers and the decision to resize our network was not made lightly.”

The company said it would provide compensation for the care of mares and foals to ranches that will no longer receive PMU collection contracts as they prepare to leave the industry. Pfizer said the affected producers would also be eligible for equine placement assistance.

Pfizer said it remained committed to providing the estrogen treatment Premarin it produces from the PMU.

Ranchers were informed of the cuts March 19 and were told they could voluntarily opt out of the program for a 75 percent total contract payout over the following year to help them transition out of PMU production.

The latest reduction leaves 19 producers still involved in PMU production in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with most ranches located in southwestern Manitoba, four each in south-central Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan and one in the Interlake.

Remaining ranchers are expected to sign a three-year, 18-week collection contract with a maximum cap on the grams they can produce.

When the PMU industry was at its height in the 1990s, the network involved more than 500 ranchers across Canada and in the northern United States.

The Women’s Health Initiative study released in 2002 is cited by some as a key reason for the downturn in the industry. It linked hormone replacement therapy to breast cancer and heart attacks. The first round of significant cuts in the PMU industry were announced later that year.

Since then, there have been several more reductions with the last cut being in 2013.

Results of the Women’s Health Initiative have been revisited in recent years and short-term hormone replacement therapy is now recommended for women within 10 years of menopause.

In 2016, the PMU industry expanded slightly with three new contracts being awarded, but now cuts are being made again.

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