When Cindy first tried the Artemisia Anti-Hemorrhage Formula supplements she bought on Amazon, she had no reason to believe she was eating donkeys. A California native and a lifelong vegetarian, she assumed the world’s largest online retailer had verified the bottle’s claim that it was made from “100 percent pure, natural herbs.” But when she read the back of the bottle, she noticed an ingredient she’d never seen before: “gelatina nigra.” She googled it and what she found turned her stomach.
Every year, millions of donkeys are slaughtered and skinned to produce the so-called gelatina nigra, which is found in Cindy’s nutritional supplements. The animal product, more commonly referred to as “ejiao” or “donkey skin gelatin,” is made from donkey skin. It is in such demand for its purported health benefits that it has decimated the world’s donkey population and has reportedly led to increasingly brutal treatment of the animals a 2019 report by the Donkey Sanctuary, an advocacy group. A video made available to the organization shows workers in Tanzania slaying donkeys with hammers to meet their slaughter quotas. “It’s not plant-based. It’s literally made with donkeys,” says Cindy, who asked that only her first name be used to protect privacy. “Why would Amazon sell something so cruel?”
While some retailers like Walmart and eBay have committed to dropping products containing ejiaohowever, edible items containing this ingredient are widely available on Amazon several petitions ask them to stop selling them. A legal complaint filed in California last week by the law firm Evans & Page on behalf of the Center for Contemporary Equine Studies, a non-profit organization, alleges that Amazon’s continued sale of these donkey-based products is beyond distasteful — er could be illegal.
The center alleges that Amazon’s distribution and sale of Ejiao violates an obscure California animal welfare law called The Law Prohibiting the Slaughter of Horses and the Sale of Horse Meat for Human Consumption. The 1998 ballot initiative, known as Proposition Six at the time it was passed, makes the sale of horse meat for human consumption a crime because horses, like dogs and cats, are not food animals and deserve similar protections. The center argues that, under the law, horsemeat includes all parts of horses, including donkeys.
For Frank Rothschild, director of the Center for Contemporary Equine Studies, the law is clear: donkeys are horses, and selling ejiao for human consumption is illegal in California. “We are a scientific organization and not in the business of national advocacy. We want the defendants to stop selling ejiao because it’s illegal,” he says. “That’s the law.”
Bruce Wagman, an attorney unaffiliated with the complaint who has practiced animal rights in California for 30 years, says that while the center makes a reasonable argument, it’s unclear whether a judge would agree, given the wording of the statute space leaves for interpretations. “Horse meat isn’t really defined in the legal text,” he says. “But the spirit of Proposition Six is to prevent horses, including donkeys, from being slaughtered for human consumption. Period.”
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