By Josh Chin
In Heaven there is dragon meat, goes an old Chinese saying, and on Earth there is the less magical — but still delicious — donkey meat. Now, one Chinese politician is campaigning for more government largesse to back the country’s donkey industry, which of late has fallen on hard times.
“Donkeys are facing extinction in China,” Qin Yufeng, a member of the Shandong Provincial People’s Congress, recently told a meeting of the legislature, according to state media reports. “I recommend that donkeys enjoy the same large-scale supportive livestock policies as cows and sheep.”
Eaters in northern China are fond of donkey meat, which is lower in fat and higher in essential amino acids than beef or pork. The city of Baoding, in northern China’s Hebei province, is famous for its lurou huoshao, or donkey burgers. Donkey with yellow noodles is a staple further west in Gansu province. And for those who don’t want to choose, all-donkey banquets can be found across the region.
In January last year, Wal-Mart was forced to apologize to customers in Shandong after authorities discovered that the “five spice” donkey meat it was selling had been adulterated with fox meat.
Appetite for asses hasn’t propped up their numbers, however. According to the state-run English-language China Daily, China’s donkey population has dipped dramatically in recent years, falling to 6 million by end of 2013 from 11 million in the 1990s.
The drop is attributable to a number of factors, the newspaper said. One is the reduced need for donkeys in the fields as farmers have moved towards more mechanization. Another is the donkey’s natural breeding limits: a female donkey can only produce one foal a year.
“So donkey breeders need financial support during the initial phase of the business,” Mr. Qin said.
Mr. Qin has a personal stake in kick-starting government funding for donkey industry: He is chairman of Dong’e Ejiao Co., a Shenzhen-listed maker of a traditional Chinese medicine for improving blood supply, ejiao, that is made from donkey hide.
Low donkey supplies have forced his company to raise prices for ejiao, he told the state-run China News Service.
“There aren’t as many people raising donkeys anymore. That’s making donkey meat more expensive and creating supply problems for Chinese medicine companies that rely on donkey skin,” he said.
But Mr. Qin isn’t the only one suggesting China’s government plop down for the pack animals. China Daily quotes Wu Changxin, a professor from China Agricultural University, as saying there’s great potential for growth in the donkey sector, though the paper didn’t elaborate.
Mr. Qin is asking for at least 20 million yuan ($3.2 million) to protect and develop the donkey industry. Whether he gets it may depend on how stubbornly he brays.