Australian consumers are playing a significant role in the global ejiao market, with the Northern Territory government said to be researching donkey farming with a view to exporting skins to China.
Australia’s role as the eighth largest importer of donkey-hide gelatin (DHG or ejiao) was revealed in a new investigative report released today by Humane Society International Australia, which explores the current state of China’s ejiao market, an industry wreaking havoc on global donkey populations. Ejiao products are widely available in Australia.
Donkey skins are boiled and the gelatin extracted to produce ejiao, an increasingly popular traditional Chinese medicine. It is hailed as a miracle elixir in China and is heavily marketed as a cure for everything from anaemia to impotence despite no scientific evidence of any health benefits. Earlier this year China’s National Health & Family Planning Commission posted on its official Weibo site a blog entry titled ‘Ejiao is not worth buying …‘ stating that ‘ejiao is simply boiled donkey skin’. This sparked a major social media frenzy. They were later required to retract their statement.
The new report shows that the ejiao market is expected to maintain a growth rate of 15% annually from 2015 to 2020 and, worryingly, the Ministry of Agriculture in China has included donkey as a target industry for the first time in The National Developing Plan of Herbivore Animal Husbandry 2016-2020.
British charity The Donkey Sanctuary estimates that the demand coming from China could reach up to 10 million donkeys per year, representing almost a quarter of the entire global donkey population. It points out that 15 countries have already stood against the trade to protect their local donkey populations including Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Pakistan.
“Our report confirms fears that this industry is gearing up and that spells disaster for donkeys,” said Georgie Dolphin, Humane Society International’s Program Manager for Animal Welfare. She also noted that today was World Donkey Day.
“The staggering growth rate in demand for ejiao is simply not sustainable and will have dire animal welfare and humanitarian consequences. The ejiao trade spells disaster for those who rely on working donkeys for their livelihoods,” she said.
“We are hearing more and more stories of donkeys in Africa being stolen and slaughtered illegally for their increasingly valuable hides. The humanitarian impact of this trade is heart-wrenching.
“Even Australia is looking to cash in. The Northern Territory government is currently researching the viability of donkey farming with the view to exporting skins to China. This would make Australia the first developed country to fuel this appalling trade.”
Dr Peter Li, Humane Society International’s China Policy Specialist, said: “While demand for the product in China is rising rapidly, export markets from China have been declining over the past two years; possibly as international consumers are made aware of the exaggerated claims of the product as well as the obscene cruelty to the donkeys used to produce ejiao.”
Despite this, the global market is still alarmingly large: Hong Kong takes the lead as the No.1 export market worth $US47 million; followed by Japan at $13 million; and the USA in third place at $12 million. Australia and Canada featured in the top ten with import values of $4 million and $2.8 million respectively.
Humane Society International’s report has also exposed dreadful cruelty surrounding the slaughter of donkeys in China. “The investigation team witnessed donkeys being killed, typically by being hit repeatedly over the head with a hammer – after struggling to stay alive one donkey took about five minutes to finally die,” Li said. “Our investigators also documented harmful environmental pollution emanating from many of the smaller donkey gelatin factories in Shandong,” he continued.
The Humane Society Georgie Dolphin said it was “a cruel and unsustainable industry producing a product that nobody needs”.
“The benefits of ejiao have been grossly exaggerated by businesses for the sole purpose of making profits. The world needs to act now to shut down this trade — before it is too late for donkeys and for the African communities who rely on them.”
HSI said education was the key to ensuring all ejiao consumers fully understand the implications of buying such a controversial product to both animals and people worldwide. It is supporting a Chinese-led campaign to educate consumers through TV advertising and social media reaching millions in an effort to impact purchasing behaviour and curb the demand for donkey hide.
Humane Society International’s report on ejiao is available here.