Ejiao Act could save donkeys worldwide killed for their skin

Two brown donkeys looking into the camera
Donkeys, photo: Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

“The international trade in donkey-hide gelatin products is leading to the mass slaughter of donkeys,” United States congressman Don Byer said in a press release about his proposed Ejiao Act.

Ejiao is a gelatine used in traditional Chinese medicine and cosmetics that is made by boiling the skin of donkeys.

Because much of the donkey skin trade is unregulated, estimates of how many donkeys are used for ejiao are difficult to pinpoint, but the British Donkey Sanctuary has put the number close to five million a year.

A 2019 report by the Donkey Sanctuary said about 1.8 million of these skins were likely sourced domestically in China, while the rest probably came from the global donkey skin trade.

The United States is the third-largest importer of ejiao, Beyer said. The Ejiao Act would prohibit the sale or transport of any ejiao products made from donkey skin. The trade is “decimating the species’ global population“, Beyer added.

The skin trade has little respect for donkey welfare, the Donkey Sanctuary report said. About 20% of the donkeys die in transport, the report said, and donkey skin slaughter methods are inhumane, according to PETA investigations in China in 2017 and in Kenya in 2019.

To meet the demand for ejiao, many donkeys are stolen for their skins from countries including Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Botswana and Brazil, the Donkey Sanctuary report added.

Animal-free ejiao
A new research report from the Donkey Sanctuary, shared with The Animal Reder, suggests that new cellular techniques for producing donkey gelatine protein could offer an opportunity to produce animal-free ejiao, which could save donkeys.

One of those processes is known as precision fermentation. The process uses yeasts as ‘cell factories’ to produce animal proteins and fats.

Another possible method is tissue cultivation, where the gelatine cells would be grown and multiplied in much the same way cells are grown for cellular agriculture meat by companies like Aleph Farms and Mosa Meats.

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