The Ethical and Environmental Dilemma of Ejiao Production: A Call for Sustainable Alternatives

Ejiao, a traditional Chinese medicine derived from the collagen extracted from donkey skin, has been at the center of a controversy that intertwines health claims, ethical concerns, and environmental impacts. This article delves into the historical roots of ejiao, its purported health benefits, and the ethical and environmental issues associated with its production. It also explores the growing demand for ejiao, the resulting decline in donkey populations, and the promising alternative of cellular agriculture.

The Origins and Health Claims of Ejiao:

Ejiao has been a part of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, made by boiling donkey hides to create a hard gel. This gel can be dissolved in hot water or alcohol and is utilized in various forms, from dietary supplements to beauty products. Proponents of ejiao claim that it improves blood circulation and serves as a blood tonic, addressing conditions such as anemia, insomnia, reproductive issues, and a dry cough. However, the scientific evidence supporting these health claims is limited, raising questions about the validity of its medicinal properties.

Environmental and Ethical Concerns:

The rapid growth of the ejiao industry has sparked environmental and ethical concerns, particularly regarding the drastic decline in the global donkey population. China, where the practice originated, has seen its donkey population plummet from 11 million in 1990 to 5.4 million in 2016. To meet the rising demand for ejiao, manufacturers have turned to Africa, exacerbating the decimation of donkey populations and posing risks to local ecosystems. The ethical dilemma arises from the inhumane treatment of donkeys during transportation and slaughter, as they are often subjected to crowded and harsh conditions.

Economic Impact of Ejiao Industry:

Despite the ethical and environmental concerns, the ejiao industry has experienced a surge in sales, with annual revenues reaching 53.5 billion yuan (7.43 billion USD) in 2020, up from 19.6 billion yuan (2.72 billion USD) in 2013. This economic success, however, comes at the cost of ethical considerations and environmental sustainability.

Transition to Humane and Sustainable Alternatives:

Recognizing the need for change, efforts are underway to transition the ejiao industry towards more humane and sustainable production methods. Cellular agriculture is emerging as a promising alternative, offering a cleaner and more ethical technology to manufacture donkey collagen without relying on real donkey hides. This transition aims to end the cruelty and devastation associated with the global trade in donkeys for collagen extraction.

Africa-wide Ban on Donkey Skin Trade:

In a significant development, African state leaders have approved a continent-wide ban on the controversial donkey skin trade. This move makes it illegal to slaughter donkeys for their skin across Africa, addressing concerns raised by animal welfare organizations like the Donkey Sanctuary. The ban is a crucial step in protecting donkey populations and preventing further environmental damage.

Current State of the Ejiao Industry:

Despite the ethical and environmental strides, the ejiao industry remains a significant player in the global market. The gelatin’s high demand has driven up prices to approximately $780 per kilogram in China, contributing to the industry’s economic impact. Efforts are needed not only to transition towards sustainable alternatives but also to educate consumers about the potential consequences of supporting the traditional ejiao trade.

Legislation and Advocacy:

Legislation such as the Ejiao Act (HR 5203), introduced by Representative Don Beyer, seeks to ban the sale and trade of ejiao products in the United States. Advocacy groups, including animal welfare organizations, play a crucial role in raising awareness and pressuring governments and industries to adopt more humane practices. The United States, as the third-largest importer of products containing ejiao, can significantly contribute to curbing this brutal and largely unregulated trade.

Consumer Awareness and Responsibility:

Consumers also bear a responsibility in addressing the ethical and environmental implications of the ejiao industry. Reading product information and ingredient lists carefully is essential to avoid purchasing products containing ejiao. Some companies, like eBay, have prohibited the sale of ejiao, but others, including Amazon, continue to sell the gelatin. Increased consumer awareness can drive demand for alternatives and contribute to a shift in the industry towards more sustainable and humane practices.



The ejiao industry stands at a crossroads, facing a delicate balance between economic prosperity, ethical considerations, and environmental sustainability. While the traditional practice has deep roots in Chinese medicine, the toll it takes on donkey populations and ecosystems cannot be ignored. The transition towards cellular agriculture and the recent Africa-wide ban on the donkey skin trade offer hope for a more ethical and sustainable future for ejiao production. It is imperative for governments, industries, and consumers to work collaboratively to address the ethical and environmental challenges posed by the traditional ejiao trade and embrace alternatives that prioritize the well-being of animals and the planet.

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