American animal rights groups have stepped up efforts to close down so-called "urine farms" in North America where hapless pregnant mares are exploited for the production of a hormone replacement drug for women.
Animal rights groups say about 80,000 pregnant mares are confined on short tethers in concrete stalls for months at a time on ranches in North Dakota and Canada, to allow their urine to be collected for the production of the drug Premarin by the Canadian pharmaceutical giant, Wyeth-Ayerst.
The latest weapon in the campaign against the company is a video made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, the best-known animal rights group in America, which highlights the cruel treatment of the mares. The video is presented by the actress, Mary Tyler Moore.
"I was appalled when I heard unofficially several years ago about what Premarin is," she said. Premarin - the name is derived from Pregnant Mares' Urine - is an oestrogen supplement for women in menopause seeking to fend off heart disease and osteoporosis, the thinning of the bones.
Among the complaints of PETA is that the horses suffer discomfort from rubber collection devices attached to their haunches and are deprived of water, to ensure that their urine is concentrated.
A spokeswoman for Wyeth-Ayrest insisted the company regularly dispatches inspectors to ensure the proper treatment of the animals. "It is in our best interest for these animals to be treated well," Marily Rhudy said.
The company has been making Premarin for almost 50 years. An estimated 8 million women around the world take it as a hormone supplement.