Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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Shortage of Donkey Skin Causes Manufacturers to Use Fake Ingredients in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Donkey Hide Chinese Traditional Medicine

(Photo : Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images) The shortage of donkey hide for use in Chinese traditional medicine (TCM) has led to the use of the hides of other animals like oxen, horses and pigs as a replacement.

Due to the shortage of an important ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the market has opened up to numerous fake replacements, Xinhua reported. 

Donkey-hide gelatin (or ejiao in Chinese) is a famous TCM ingredient made from stewing a donkey's skin and improving it to make tonic. It is believed that eijiao can help cure anemia, dry cough, and dizziness.

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It can be used in many products such as desserts and can cost as much as ¥400 ($61) to ¥4,000 ($608). 

Data released by the Shandong Ejiao Trade Association showed that 5,000 tons of ejiao is produced yearly in mainland China. This requires about 4 million donkey hides each year. However, the annual supply stands at less than 1.8 million, which means that around 40 percent of ejiao products in the market are fake. 

Ejiao were originally produced in Shandong Province, and most of the suppliers currently come from there.

"With the current donkey hide supply, only 3,000 tons of ejiao can be manufactured each year," said Dong Shuguang, an ejiao consultant. 

The shortage in ejiao is being caused by donkeys' low fertility rate and long rearing time, which has led to a 23 percent price increase. 

In 2015, a complete donkey skin was sold at an average price of ¥2,600 ($395).

Seeing no other solution, manufacturers have turned to using skins of mules, horses, pigs, and oxen, with some even using shoes. 

"It is very difficult to differentiate donkey skin from mules and horses, making it easy for manufacturers to get away with fake products. Current testing methods are ineffective," said Bu Xun from Shandong Academy of Agricultural Sciences. 

Bu said that manufacturers also save a lot of money by using other animal skin as hides of horses and mules are only ¥200 ($30), while a donkey skin almost ¥ 3,000 ($455).

Only DNA tests can guarantee real ejiao products. The country primarily test for traces of oxen, overlooking hides of pigs, horses, and other animals, Bu said. 

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