Three major Chinese pharmaceutical companies, which receive backing from renowned global banks, are reportedly using parts from endangered animals in their medicinal products. This alarming revelation comes from an investigation carried out by the Environmental Investigation Agency UK (EIA).
The EIA’s report, released on Monday, disclosed that they identified 72 companies, licensed by China’s drug regulatory body, that are using body parts from leopards and pangolins. Both these species are on the brink of extinction. Among the implicated companies are three publicly traded traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) powerhouses: Beijing Tong Ren Tang, Tianjin Pharmaceutical, and Jilin Aodong Medicine.
The investigation found at least nine products, claimed to contain leopard and/or pangolin components, that were manufactured by these firms. Additionally, some of these companies reportedly sell products containing parts from tigers and rhinos. This goes against China’s official stance, which prohibits the use of tiger bone and rhino horn in medicine.
Avinash Basker, an EIA legal and policy specialist, expressed grave concern over these findings, stating, “This is use on an effectively industrial scale which can only push these species ever closer to extinction.”
These brands hold significant influence within China. For instance, Tong Ren Tang, established in 1669, boasts a rich history as the exclusive provider of Chinese medicine to royal families for nearly two centuries. Today, it stands as the world’s premier producer of TCM. These companies also have a vast international footprint, with 62 banks and financial institutions, including Fortune 500 firms worldwide, as investors. Notable shareholders include BlackRock, Citigroup, and HSBC.
The EIA is now calling on these shareholders to divest from these companies. Basker remarked, “It’s particularly disappointing to see so many major banks and financial institutions effectively endorsing this damaging exploitation, especially as so many have pledged to do otherwise.”
In the lucrative TCM industry, leopard bones, powdered down, are used as a more affordable substitute for the pricier tiger bone, believed to treat conditions like arthritis. Pangolin scales, on the other hand, are thought to aid blood circulation, promote lactation, and treat rheumatism.
Despite the global push for enhanced legal protections for endangered species, including in China, the exploitation continues. For instance, even though China removed pangolin scales from its list of approved TCM ingredients in 2020, illegal trafficking persists. Pangolins remain the most illegally traded wild mammals globally.