Table Tennis Players Concerned About Donkey Trade Sponsorship

Credit: Humane Society International
Credit: Humane Society International

By The Maritime Executive 02-05-2019 05:24:06

Table Tennis Australia (TTA) has found itself at the center of an animal welfare debate after accepting sponsorship money from the Australian Donkey Industry Association.

The deal was made last year, but several players, having voiced their concerns to the media and on social media have allegedly been warned to keep quiet. The ABC reported this week that it has obtained correspondence showing that some players have been asked to delete social media posts and to decline invitations to speak to the media.

The Australian Donkey Industry Association is a lobby group run by traders of a controversial traditional Chinese medicine called ejiao which is made from the boiled hides of donkeys.

Champion player Wade Townsend told the ABC: “TTA shouldn't be coming down on one side of a controversial debate like this.”

Another player, Gayle D'Arcy, wrote: "Personally I find it very disappointing that TTA is entering into a sponsorship agreement with a company whose industry RSPCA Australia says poses significant animal welfare risks.”

Humane Society International (HSI) has entered the debate and is calling on TTA to end the deal, saying the escalating demand for this dubious health fad is decimating donkey populations across the globe.

HSI's investigative report released last May named Australia as the eighth biggest importer of ejiao, with upwards of $4 million worth of the product entering the country last year. The industry hopes to use Australia as a source country for donkeys having exhausted donkey supplies elsewhere in the world.

Up to four million donkeys are killed globally every year to produce ejiao, and HSI's investigation also revealed the deplorable conditions and distressing slaughter practices that donkeys face to supply the trade. Donkeys are notoriously difficult to transport and handle, particularly when restricted in confined spaces, deeming them highly unsuitable for export. They are also extremely susceptible to stress which can lead to an often fatal condition known as hyperlipaemia.

In 2017, the Donkey Sanctuary, a U.K.-based donkey welfare organization, published a review of the trade which described the donkey skin trade as a human and animal welfare crisis. Thousands of villagers in Africa who rely upon their donkeys to cart water and other goods now face severe hardship due to donkey theft. In response, several countries have taken action to stop the trade with bans in place in Niger, Burkina Faso and Senegar, and Ethiopia has closed its only operational slaughterhouse. In 2015, Pakistan became the first Asian country to ban the export of donkey hides.

Chinese investors have been in discussions with Australia's Northern Territory government who are currently researching the feasibility of donkey farming using feral populations. If this plan was to go ahead, it would result in severe animal welfare implications for donkeys due to the behavioral issues faced when farmed and transported and is not the solution to curb feral donkey populations, says Georgie Dolphin, HSI's Program Manager for Animal Welfare.

With no peer reviewed scientific evidence of any health benefits, ejiao is facing increasing scrutiny and stigma. This combined with the animal welfare consequences associated with the trade has prompted many retailers, including eBay, to remove the products from its site.

There is a bill in the federal parliament sponsored by Senators Mehreen Faruqi and Derryn Hinch to ban live export of donkeys and other equines from Australia. “HSI strongly supports the bill and is urging MPs and Senators to join ranks to back the legislation to ensure the horrors of the live export trade are not extended to donkeys to feed the demand for ejiao,” says Dolphin.
“When the end is possibly in sight for the live sheep export trade, creating a new export market which would facilitate live donkeys being supplied to China, would be nothing short of ludicrous,” she said. “This important Bill would terminate any opportunity for live Australian donkeys to be supplied to China which is a critical part of curbing the ejiao supply chain,” says Dolphin.

TTA has responded to the ABC coverage saying: “The sponsorship agreement was the subject of a due diligence process by the TTA Board which agreed to accept the proposal. Table Tennis is an amateur sport that is reliant on the generosity of commercial support to fund participation growth and high performance, however proper processes are in place to evaluate all sponsorship arrangements.

“In evaluating this proposal, TTA considered that the offer was made by an entity that is legally registered and which demonstrates that they comply with all required Australian regulations. In that regard, it is no different to many similar sponsorships across Australian sport.

“While some people may have a philosophical position regarding the meat and livestock industry and animal products more broadly, there were no considerations with Australian Donkey Industry Association that TTA identified that provided cause for concern. TTA believes regulations regarding the humane and ethical treatment of animals should be observed across all primary industries.”