According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the majority of modern medicine derives from plant and animal sources. This is particularly true of the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) market, which is globally estimated at $60bn. It is also widely implicated in driving some exotic species to the edge of extinction.
Although herbal remedies form the majority, around 36 animal species are still used. The basis for TCM lies with Shennong (28th century BC) who is credited with compiling the first herbological study. Exotic species such as tiger, bear, rhino and Musk deer have all been used as part of TCM remedies. Whilst the use of exotic animal parts in traditional medicine have no proven therapeutic benefit, their mythology continues to thrive. Domestic use of tiger bone was banned in 1993, but is still regularly sourced on the black market. Decocted Rhino horn has been principally blamed for the poaching of rhino almost to extinction, and has still not been banned by the Chinese government.
Over 90 TCM treatments contain seahorse, with 32 countries involved in harvesting 20m seahorses every year, such that eight species are now classified as threatened (vulnerable or endangered). The farming of 54 animal species purely for the TCM market is sanctioned by Beijing but this sector is prone to much black market intervention. Live wild animal markets are now flagged as the most likely host for zoonotic viruses such as SARS and COVID-19. A live animal market in Wuhan is widely suspected as the source of the global COVID-19 pandemic, where live animals are slaughtered and prepared on site.
Traditional Medicine and the Plight of the Pangolin
The little-known pangolin or scaly anteater has become the world’s most trafficked animal, and the iconic wildlife story of the demand for animal parts for the TCM market.
The pangolin is a shy, secretive ant-eating mammal in high demand for their scales made of keratin, and their meat, which is a delicacy in China and Vietnam. Ground and turned into paste, pangolin scales are alleged to help with lactation, arthritis and other myriad ailments. However, there is little evidence to support any therapeutic positives. Demand is driving sub-species close to extinction. In January 2019, eight tonnes were seized worth HKD$42m ($5.4m) representing 14,000 animals. Between 2014 and 2018 140 tonnes of pangolin scales were seized. A possible bright note arising from COVID-19 are restrictions placed by China on the sale and trade in pangolins, given the genetic structure of the pangolin and human coronavirus is 90% similar. Despite the international trade in pangolins banned by 183 nations in 2016 as part of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, resulting in all eight sub-species having the highest protection in law. However, this has failed to halt illegal trafficking, as the survival of this shy, secretive mammal hangs in the balance.
Over 90 TCM treatments contain seahorse, with 32 countries involved in harvesting 20m seahorses every year, such that eight species are now classified as threatened (vulnerable or endangered).
What is EdenTree’s Approach?
EdenTree has some exposure to the TCM market and this presents distinct challenges for the responsible and sustainable investor. Where seeking investment exposure we look for well regulated and responsible businesses with proprietary pharmacological solutions based on proven herbal or plant based therapies.
For our screened Funds where animal welfare is at the forefront of our thinking we would seek assurances that companies do not trade, farm or source animal parts – other than as legitimate by-products, and most specifically have policies not to source or deal in exotic or endangered species. One such company is Eu Yan Sang founded over 140 years ago and focussed on modern TCM remedies using over 1,000 natural plants and herbs and with a specific policy against using endangered or exotic animal parts, although it does source chicken and fish from responsible suppliers.