BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Shanghai's food and drug watchdog and the municipal police recently cracked a major case of producing and selling counterfeit ejiao, a gelatin made of donkey hides, while falsely using a famous brand name.
Altogether 36 suspects from Shanghai and the provinces of Henan and Guangdong were detained in the case, and more than 8,000 bootleg products worth 40 million yuan (S$8 million) were confiscated.
The counterfeit goods were fakes of those made by Shandong province-based Dong'e Ejiao, the country's top maker of a signature traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) product.
The fake goods were actually made with ox hide and edible gelatin. Official tests showed that the bogus goods did not pose a health risk to humans.
The Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration received an alert from Dong'e Ejiao early last year that some shops in Shanghai were suspected of selling fake Dong'e products. The administration soon initiated a special investigation team in tandem with police.
The team purchased products from the shops and found that they did not contain donkey hides and were thus deemed to be fakes.
The team also found that the suspects, led by a man surnamed Shi, had been involved in the illegal production in two residential houses in rural Jiaozuo city, Henan, since August last year (2017). They made the counterfeits using ox hides and edible gelatin with fake labels and packaging supplied from Guangdong province.
On Dec 7, police raided the illegal production sites in Henan and Guangdong and a site where products were stored, and detained the suspects.
"Most of those caught in Shanghai were wholesalers of the products. They were mainly from neighbouring Zhejiang province and sold the counterfeit products at prices noticeably lower than the genuine ones to health product stores and TCM hospitals," said An Ti, a member of a task force in Alibaba Group's platform governance department, which assisted in the case investigation with big-data technology.
Thirty-three suspects, including Shi, were held for criminal detention by police on suspicion of producing and selling fake drugs and illegally manufacturing logos of registered trademarks. Among them, 12 have been authorised for arrest by the prosecuting agency.
Professor Gao Xuemin at the pharmacy department of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, said ejiao, which was dubbed a "holy medicine" long ago by traditional Chinese medicine expert Li Shizhen, first gained popularity in the imperial family and later became known to the general public.
It is made by soaking and stewing donkey hides and refining the results into a tonic to treat health problems such as anaemia and menopause-linked ailments.
There are currently more than 200 companies specialising in ejiao production in the country and the market has grown from 6.4 billion yuan in 2008 to 34.2 billion yuan in 2016, according to Beijing-based Prospective Industry Research Institute.
Businesses have also made ejiao in new forms that are closer to snacks to cater to modern consumers' rising interest in health and wellness.