The world’s largest online retailer is facing charges relating to animal violations after selling products containing donkey meat, reports South Africa’s Business Insider. The new lawsuit claims Amazon is breaking Californian and animal welfare laws by selling items containing ejiao, a gelatin made from donkey skins. Some cultures believe the substance has healing properties – a claim which has never been substantiated.
The charges were brought by the US Center for Contemporary Equine Studies and come after efforts by advocacy groups to end the practice.
Ejiao is "a hard gel that can be dissolved in hot water or alcohol to be used in food or drink, or in beauty products such as face creams,” explains the Brooke USA Foundation, a group fighting against Amazon in support of donkey welfare.
Some advocacy groups and consumers say that companies are deceptively using the substance and thus contributing to the skinning and slaughter of millions of donkeys every year. This includes in South Africa – a major exporter of donkey skins via convoluted illegal trade routes.
One Amazon customer told Wired publication that she was shocked to find anti-hemorrhage dietary supplements on the site that claimed to be "100 percent pure, natural herbs," but which contained "gelatina nigra," – another name for ejiao.
"It's not herbal. It's literally made with donkeys," the customer said. "Why would Amazon sell something that cruel?"
The lawsuit comes after failed efforts by advocacy groups to stop Amazon selling the products. While competitors like Walmart and eBay have pledged to remove products containing ejiao and ban future sales, Amazon has yet to do the same, even as pressure mounts.
The lawsuit aims to use an obscure law to stop the sale of ejiao, claiming Amazon is breaching the 1998 Prohibition of Horse Slaughter and Sale of Horsemeat for Human Consumption Act on the grounds that donkeys are equine animals, say reports.
According to an analysis of 1,000 products containing ejiao or which included terms like "donkey hide", at least 15 food items contained the gelatin, and at least four were available to be shipped directly from Amazon warehouses, as opposed to third-party sellers.
According to The Pegasus Foundation, an organization fighting to ban donkey hide products, 8 to 10 million donkeys are thought to be slaughtered each year to meet demand for ejiao. A 2019 report by The Donkey Sanctuary found that "cruel and often illegal treatment of donkeys by local traders is rife" — including documentation of Tanzanian workers bludgeoning animals to death with hammers to meet slaughter quotas.
The suit calls on Amazon to ban ejiao immediately, and if the retailer loses, it could face fines of up to $1 million for each day that ejiao-related transactions occur in California.
“We need stop the sale of ejiao on the world's largest purchasing online platform," Brooke USA Foundation states on its website. “If we help curtail product availability, we can have an impact on the economic gain of those involved in the manufacture of ejiao — both legal and illegal suppliers."
Network for Animals helps fight the donkey skin trade and supports animals rescued from the brutal trade across Africa. In 2021, we were instrumental in shutting down a donkey slaughterhouse in Shinyanga, Tanzania, and in banning donkey slaughter across that country.
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