If you are planning to buy your donkey meat on Amazon this Christmas, you may have to look elsewhere. The world’s largest online retailer says it has stopped selling edible donkey in California, WIRED has learned.
Amazon’s new policy kicked in after months of negotiations with the Center for Contemporary Equine Studies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting horses. In February, the center filed a legal complaint alleging that Amazon’s sale and distribution of products that contain ejiao—an ingredient made with donkey skin that’s popular in health supplements—violates a California animal-welfare law called the Prohibition of Horse Slaughter and Sale of Horsemeat for Human Consumption Act.
Horsemeat, the center argues, includes donkeys.
As part of a settlement to that complaint, Amazon has agreed to stop selling products that contain ejiao in California. According to court documents, Amazon denies any wrongdoing and disputes the center’s allegations. But in an interview with WIRED, Corey Page, an attorney with the law firm Evans & Page who represented the center in the lawsuit, speculates that “Amazon doesn’t settle cases it thinks it can win.”
“This is a signal that if anyone is doing this, they are doing something illegal,” he says. “If a company like Amazon decides it needs to stop sending products and promoting products that violate California law, then all other retailers should do the same.”
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment or questions about its new donkey-meat policy.
According to the settlement, Amazon has agreed to “undertake reasonable best efforts” to implement “internal measures” that prevent the sale of products containing ejiao “so that such products will not be available for sale to California addresses.”
It’s unclear how effective that approach will be. A June 2020 investigation from The Markup found that Amazon failed to enforce its own list of banned items including bongs, pill presses, and gun parts. A major 2019 investigation by the Wall Street Journal similarly found thousands of unsafe and banned products for sale on the site. A CNBC report that same year revealed Amazon was shipping expired baby formula and other consumables. Also in 2019, WIRED found books on Amazon pushing potentially fatal “treatments” for autism.
To test the terms of the donkey-meat settlement, WIRED filled an Amazon shopping cart with 10 edible items containing donkey and tried to ship it to our San Francisco office. Amazon prevented our sale at checkout with a message that read, “Sorry, this item can’t be shipped to your selected address. You may either change the shipping address or delete the item from your order.” In February, we were able to purchase ejiao products and successfully ship them to a California address.
Amazon is not the only retailer that has limited its sale of donkey meat in recent years. In 2018, Walmart and eBay committed to drop ejiao products after pressure from animal rights advocates who claimed that the high demand led to the brutal treatment of donkeys. A 2019 report by an advocacy organization called the Donkey Sanctuary details how workers in Tanzania bludgeoned donkeys with hammers to meet their slaughter quotas.
If you didn’t know, or had never thought about, whether Amazon sells donkey meat, you likely aren’t alone. In February, WIRED found more than a dozen products on Amazon that contained donkey; some even claimed to be “herbal” on their bottle. They had names like Chinese Special Snack Seedless and Ass Hide Glue Lumps. “It’s not herbal,” a lifelong vegetarian who unknowingly ate donkey after purchasing a dietary supplement on Amazon told WIRED at the time. “It’s literally made with donkeys.”