Remaining PMU producers brace for more cuts

The once-robust industry is now a fading shadow of its former self

The hits keep coming for the region’s remaining pregnant mare urine producers.

They’ve been told to expect further production cuts for the 2020-21 season, despite signing a three-year, 18-week collection contract with Pfizer Canada in 2019.

It follows of the heels of last year’s cuts which resulted in production of PMU to cease at five ranches; three from southwestern Manitoba, one from the Interlake region and one from southeastern Saskatchewan, as well as a production cap on some of the larger contracts. That reduction reflected a 17 per cent cut in product equalling approximately 33,000 grams of estrogen for the 2019-20 contract year.

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Equine ranchers are independently contracted by the pharmaceutical company, Pfizer to collect PMU, providing a key source of hormones used in estrogen therapies for menopausal women.

While no ranchers will be forced out of the industry in this round of cuts, Pfizer did give producers up until March 4, 2020 to voluntarily accept a full or partial buyout package aimed at reducing the number of grams of estrogen needed by the company.

Within the industry it is said one producer from south-central Manitoba accepted the full buyout and one southwestern Manitoba rancher took a partial buyout.

Once these numbers were taken into consideration, projected reduction numbers were calculated and released by Pfizer to the remaining individual producers by March 18, 2020. However, total grams of estrogen required by the company have not been disclosed as of yet.

For these 17 remaining ranchers involved in the network, some will see an approximate 17 to 18 per cent reduction in total contract overall for the 2020-21 season, with some of the smaller contracts less affected. Ranchers are paid per gram of estrogen and not on the volume of urine produced.

Pfizer met with ranchers one on one in mid- to late February to discuss their options.

This past season was also cut short when producers with two to three weeks left to ship their contracted amount, were told to cease production.

A spokesperson from Pfizer Canada responded with a statement earlier this spring.

“Pfizer routinely conducts reviews of its businesses and overall manufacturing needs and capabilities. This includes our operations in Brandon, Manitoba. Pfizer has initiated a review of its inventory management. We are able to satisfy market demand by reducing the volume of PMU that is being collected.

“As part of its normal business analysis, Pfizer continually reviews PMU collection requirements. Decisions are informed by an evaluation of the hormone therapy market, prescribing trends and related raw material and inventory requirements.

“Pfizer values its network of ranchers and the decision to reduce our PMU volume collection was not made lightly. We are committed to treating ranchers fairly and reasonably as we make these changes to our collection operations.”

The PMU industry was at its height in the 1990s. At that time, the network involved over 500 ranchers from across the three Prairie provinces and the northern United States.

The results of the Women’s Health Initiative trial released in 2002 is thought to be responsible for the downturn in the equine ranching industry. The widely known clinical study suggested hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to be responsible for an increase in breast cancer and heart attacks in women.

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 most recent being last year.

This reduction will leave only 18 producers in the network, with 14 located in Manitoba and the remaining four in southeastern Saskatchewan.

New research has concluded that in many cases, the benefits of hormone replacement therapy for women within 10 years of menopause, outweigh the risks dependent on their personal and family health history. Short-term HRT is now considered to be beneficial for not only treating the unpleasant symptoms of menopause, but also provides secondary benefits such as a reduced risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, endometrial cancers and Type 2 diabetes.

The decision to take HRTs is an individual one and women are advised to consult their health-care provider to assess their own personal risk and benefits.

Brenda Hunter writes from the Virden area.

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