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China still allowing use of pangolin scales in traditional medicine

The Chinese government continues to allow the use of pangolin scales for traditional medicine despite promises to crack down on a trade that has made them the most illegally trafficked mammals in the world.



Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images


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Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

A report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reveals online sales platforms such as eBay and Taobao continue to advertise pangolin products, while major pharmaceutical companies, including the leading China Beijing Tong Ren Tang Group, offer similar items directly on their websites.

The researchers behind the Smoke and Mirrors report found 221 companies had been licensed to sell items containing pangolin scales, which appeared as an ingredient in 64 different products.

The watchdog group said this revealed major loopholes in China’s regulations that needed to be closed if the government is serious about protecting endangered wildlife.

Pangolin have almost disappeared in China because of a medically unproven belief that a broth containing the scales has medicinal qualities, including helping women who have problems lactating. Over recent decades the circle of slaughter and smuggling has steadily widened to neighbouring nations, then south-east Asia, and now Africa.

An estimated 200,000 pangolins are consumed each year in Asia, of which Chinese traditional medicine is the main driver. The latest world wildlife crime report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says 71% of pangolin scale seizures were destined for China. Vietnam is another major market.

Hopes for change were raised this summer when the Chinese government, which is due to host a global biodiversity summit, announced that pangolin scales had been removed from the official listing of approved ingredients in the traditional pharmacopoeia.

This won international kudos and, along with President Xi Jinping’s announcement of more ambitious cuts to carbon emission, prompted optimism that China was ready to take on an environmental leadership role, in contrast to the negligence of the US under Donald Trump.

But the EIA report reveals huge gaps in Chinese enforcement. The government continues to allow pharmaceutical companies to use pangolin scales from the national stockpile, which is “shrouded in secrecy and never seems to run out”. A related report earlier this year found China’s medical insurance system was still reimbursing users for traditional remedies containing pangolin, which undermined the broader goal of reducing the illegal trade.

“China has taken some half measures but not gone the full way in banning the use of pangolin scales in medicine,” said Chris Hamley, a senior pangolin campaigner at the EIA. “Given the massive illegal trade and weak regulation internally, it is very likely that pharmaceutical companies are using illegal scales. Our report found a whole bunch of those.”

He called on the National People’s Congress to close the loopholes when it reviews China’s wildlife protection law. Companies and their European investors could also make declarations not to use pangolin scales, which can be replaced by other herbal products. The international community could also use the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna

China using pangolin scales in traditional medicine despite claiming the contrary, says environment report

China is still allowing the use of pangolin scales in traditional medicine despite pledging to crack down on wildlife trade given concerns that close contact between humans and animals could lead to another devastating pandemic. 

A new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency has found that 221 companies in China remain licensed to sell products using pangolin scales, including leading traditional medicine company Beijing Tong Ren Tang.

Such goods are also being actively advertised and are available to domestic and international consumers via online shopping sites, according to the report.

The watchdog group is urging the Chinese government to close the loopholes that have allowed the pangolin trade to continue. One step the EIA is calling on Beijing to implement is to change the country’s wildlife protection law to fully prohibit the sale or possession of pangolin parts.

“Amid mounting concerns about the role of wildlife trade in causing the coronavirus pandemic, it is critical that the Chinese government ends all legal use of pangolin scales, instead of allowing the multi-billion dollar TCM industry to carry on as usual,” said Chris Hamley, senior pangolin campaigner with EIA.

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China still allowing use of pangolin scales in traditional medicine | Illegal wildlife trade

The Chinese government continues to allow the use of pangolin scales for traditional medicine despite promises to crack down on a trade that has made them the most illegally trafficked mammals in the world.

A report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reveals online sales platforms such as eBay and Taobao continue to advertise pangolin products, while major pharmaceutical companies, including the leading China Beijing Tong Ren Tang Group, offer similar items directly on their websites.

The researchers behind the Smoke and Mirrors report found 221 companies had been licensed to sell items containing pangolin scales, which appeared as an ingredient in 64 different products.

The watchdog group said this revealed major loopholes in China’s regulations that needed to be closed if the government is serious about protecting endangered wildlife.

Pangolin have almost disappeared in China because of a medically unproven belief that a broth containing the scales has medicinal qualities, including helping women who have problems lactating. Over recent decades the circle of slaughter and smuggling has steadily widened to neighbouring nations, then south-east Asia, and now Africa.

An estimated 200,000 pangolins are consumed each year in Asia, of which Chinese traditional medicine is the main driver. The latest world wildlife crime report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says 71% of pangolin scale seizures were destined for China. Vietnam is another major market.

Hopes for change were raised this summer when the Chinese government, which is due to host a global biodiversity summit, announced that pangolin scales had been removed from the official listing of approved ingredients in the traditional pharmacopoeia.

This won international kudos and, along with President Xi Jinping’s announcement of more ambitious cuts to carbon emission, prompted optimism that China was ready to take on an environmental leadership role, in contrast to the negligence of the US under Donald Trump.

But the EIA report reveals huge gaps in Chinese enforcement. The government continues to allow pharmaceutical companies to use pangolin scales from the national stockpile, which is “shrouded in secrecy and never seems to run out”. A related report earlier this year found China’s medical insurance system was still reimbursing users for traditional remedies containing pangolin, which undermined the broader goal of reducing the illegal trade.

“China has taken some half measures but not gone the full way in banning the use of pangolin scales in medicine,” said Chris Hamley, a senior pangolin campaigner at the EIA. “Given the massive illegal trade and weak regulation internally, it is very likely that pharmaceutical companies are using illegal scales. Our report found a whole bunch of those.”

He called on the National People’s Congress to close the loopholes when it reviews China’s wildlife protection law. Companies and their European investors could also make declarations not to use pangolin scales, which can be replaced by other herbal products. The international community could also use the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) to encourage nations to take tougher action