Environmental group exposes Chinese drugmakers’ use of endangered animal parts in products

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23rd October 2023 – (Beijing) Three Chinese pharmaceutical companies, including Beijing Tong Ren Tang group, Tianjin Pharmaceutical group, and Jilin Aodong Pharmaceutical Group, have come under scrutiny for using endangered animals as ingredients in their products, according to a report by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. Global banks such as UBS and HSBC are among the investors in these publicly traded firms, prompting the environmental group to call for divestment.

The report highlights 72 companies, including the aforementioned pharmaceutical firms, that have incorporated body parts of threatened leopards and pangolins into at least 88 traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) products. The focus on pharmaceutical companies stems from their public listing and the display of products containing leopard or pangolin parts on their websites.

TCM products have long been known to utilise various animal parts as ingredients, with manufacturers often emphasising the efficacy of such components and listing them on product packaging. Avinash Basker, a legal and policy specialist for the NGO, expressed disappointment in major banks and financial institutions endorsing this exploitative practice and called for their prompt divestment from TCM manufacturers using threatened species.

Reuters reached out to Beijing Tong Ren Tang, Tianjin Pharmaceutical group, and Jilin Aodong Pharmaceutical Group for comment, but they did not respond. The report indicates that 62 financial institutions, including UBS, Deutsche Bank, HSBC Holdings, Citigroup, and BlackRock, have invested in at least one of the three firms. Some investors, such as Wells Fargo & Co, have already divested from the TCM companies or sold their shares, as stated by the agency.

HSBC Global Asset Management Canada and Royal Bank of Canada informed the agency that their investments in the companies were limited to passive or tracker funds, while UBS clarified that its shareholdings were held on behalf of clients. The environmental group’s queries to Deutsche Bank, HSBC Holdings, Citigroup, and BlackRock went unanswered. When approached by Reuters, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, and BlackRock declined to comment.

The activist group further urged the Chinese government to impose a ban on the commercial use of endangered animal parts in domestic markets. China’s National Medical Products Administration did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment. Although China’s amended Wildlife Protection law, effective since May, prohibits the trade of most wild animals for consumption, permits for breeding and utilisation can still be issued under certain circumstances.