The complaint demands that Amazon stop selling ejiao immediately. If a judge ultimately finds Amazon in violation of the law, the state of California could fine Amazon for each sale. This type of regulatory pressure is not unprecedented. In 2018, prosecutors in three California counties accused Amazon of violating a 2004 state law banning sales of foie gras. In a settlement, Amazon agreed not to sell the fatty goose liver in California and paid $100,000 in civil penalties.
To test the center’s claims, WIRED scraped more than 1,000 Amazon product search results using terms like “ejiao,” “donkey hide,” and “ass hide,” and found at least 15 edible items that claim to contain donkey. These items had names like Chinese Special Snack Seedless, Ass Hide Glue Lumps, and Ejiao Slice. In total, we found that while every listed item was sold by third parties, at least four were available to ship from Amazon’s warehouses.
Amazon’s website typically alerts users who attempt to purchase items banned in their state and blocks their sale. We filled an Amazon shopping cart with these edible products and went through the checkout process to see whether Amazon would deliver them to a California address. At no point did we encounter any notifications that the items couldn’t be shipped to California. However, when we added a lightbulb to our cart that is not compliant with California state regulations, Amazon prevented us from completing our purchase. We were ultimately able to purchase several ejiao products and successfully ship them to a California address.
Amazon spokesperson Amanda Cruz declined WIRED’s request to comment on the sale and shipment of products containing donkey meat to a California address. NSD Herbal, which sells the supplement Cindy purchased, did not yet respond to a request for comment.
Though Amazon has policies against selling illegal or prohibited products, it’s possible that the distribution of ejiao, if illegal, has evaded the company’s content moderation. Amazon has often come under fire for its lax product controls. In 2019, an investigation by The Wall Street Journal 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. WIRED also found books on Amazon peddling scientifically unproven and potentially fatal “treatments” for autism.
“Amazon is a big company that has tons of resources. With that position comes responsibility, and if it seems like they aren’t abiding by state laws, then clearly they need to do better,” says Teresa Murray, director of the Consumer Watchdog Program at the nonprofit Public Interest Research Group. “It’s their job to know the law.”
Update 10:50 am, February 24, 2023: Following publication, Bruce Wagman clarified that while he has exclusively practiced animal law in California for 18 years, he has practiced animal law to one degree or another for 30 years. We’ve updated the piece to reflect this information.