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PMU ranchers see cuts

The industry remains a shrinking shadow of its former self

PMU mares like this have become a rare sight in Manitoba following years of cuts.

Equine ranchers serving the hormone replacement therapy industry are seeing another round of cuts.

The news came March 29, in an official statement from Pfizer Canada and affects a total of five operations in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

It results in a 17 per cent reduction in production, which equals 33,000 grams of estrogen. Producers are paid per gram of estrogen, not volume of urine produced.

Pfizer contracts with the independent ranchers to collect PMU, a key source of hormones used in estrogen therapies for menopausal women.

Why it matters: PMU ranchers had celebrated a small bump recently as demand rose, only to ultimately be disappointed.

In its statement, the company characterized the move as a business-based one, part of the company’s regular efforts to match supply and demand.

“Pfizer routinely conducts reviews of its businesses and overall manufacturing needs and capabilities,” its statement read. “This includes our operations in Brandon, Manitoba. 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.”

The company said it valued its relationship with the ranchers it does business with and said the decision “… was not made lightly.”

The company also says it presented ranchers with a few options aimed at making the adjustments less painful, if possible.

That began with a meeting March 19 with equine ranchers, where they were informed of the coming cuts. At that time they were offered the decision of voluntarily opting to exit the sector, in exchange for a 75 per cent total contract payout for the following year to ease the transition.

Producers who didn’t make that choice still qualify for some assistance. Pfizer will provide compensation for the care of mare and foals as the producers “transition out of the network.” The affected ranchers will also be eligible for equine placement assistance.

The reduction affects three ranches in Westman, one in the Interlake and another in Saskatchewan. Of those five, three producers raised registered quarter-horses, one purebred Percherons, and one bred sport horses.

This leaves 19 producers still involved in the production of PMU in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, with the highest concentration of ranches in southwestern Manitoba.

Remaining ranchers will 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 over 500 ranchers from across Canada and the northern United States.

A Women’s Health Initiative study, released in 2002, is thought to be responsible for the downturn in the equine ranching industry. The landmark study linked hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to breast cancer and heart attacks. The first round of significant cuts in the PMU industry were announced later that same year.

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

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

In 2016, the PMU industry expanded slightly, with more grams being contracted to some existing ranchers and three new contracts being awarded.

Now only three years later, cuts are being made again. The company’s statement also hinted this might not be the last round of cuts.

“As part of its normal business analysis, Pfizer continually reviews PMU collection requirements,” the statement read. “Any future decisions will also be informed by an evaluation of the hormone therapy market, prescribing trends and related raw material and inventory requirements.”

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