Amazon Might Be Selling Illegal Meat

You should never ASSume which ingredients are in the products you buy.

Wouldn't it be great to live in a world where we could take consumer product descriptions at face value? One where we didn't have to be vigilant about looking at ingredient lists and decoding what all the terms mean in order to make sure we're consuming something safe and as-advertised? Of course, that's just wishful thinking, but I never thought the list of hidden ingredients to keep an eye out for would include—brace yourself—donkey meat. As WIRED reports, this might be the case with some products sold on Amazon, and that meat may land the company in a lawsuit.


One Amazon customer noticed an unusual ingredient listed on the label of a supplement she purchased on the site and decided to do a little more research. The ingredient "gelatina nigra," also known as ejiao, is a gelatin made from donkey hide. This ingredient is at the center of multiple consumer petitions, and now a possible lawsuit in the state of California.

Which animal meat is illegal to eat?

There are a number of ingredients and foods that are not legal or severely restricted in the United States, despite the availability of these items in other countries.

For example, horse meat and blowfish are both animal products that can only be consumed under certain conditions. Blowfish, or fugu, is a potentially poisonous Japanese delicacy that only highly trained professionals are allowed to butcher and serve. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration only allows it to be sold in a small number of licensed restaurants. Horse meat, meanwhile, is not illegal to consume, but the purchase, sale, and distribution of the meat is illegal, which makes it all but impossible for most people to acquire.


In 2013, the widespread European horse meat scandal highlighted how horse meat is not banned because of anything inherently harmful about the meat itself—instead, the problem is that the meat is part of an unregulated, untraceable supply chain in which horses might have been treated with painkillers that are potentially dangerous to humans.

Eating donkey meat is not barred in the United States, nor in most of the world. In fact, WebMD notes, "The nutritional characteristics of donkey meat make it a great option for health-conscious meat-lovers." But the specific rules surrounding this meat are currently being debated thanks to Amazon's ongoing ejiao controversy.

Is Amazon selling illegal meat?

The Center for Contemporary Equine Studies, a nonprofit organization, recently filed a legal complaint in California against Amazon citing the Prohibition of Horse Slaughter and Sale of Horsemeat for Human Consumption Act of 1998.


Although this only specifies the sale of horse meat as being criminal, the center is arguing that the same applies to donkeys, as they are of the same family (Equidae). While logical, this argument may not hold up in court, since the specific prohibition being cited in the legal complaint does not clearly define what is considered "horse" meat.

In conducting its own investigation, WIRED found at least 15 edible items on Amazon that contained donkey, with four of them being directly distributed by Amazon; reporters ordered the products to see if Amazon would prevent the sale to a California address. Amazon does have notifications and blockers in place to prevent the sale of items that are banned in certain states, but this particular sale went through without an issue.


Officially, it is up for a judge to decide if the pending lawsuit holds water. Until then, consider this a reminder to check the labels on the products you consume.