E-sales of placenta continue to thrive under ban

Updated: 2011-10-25 08:15

By Zheng Xin (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Sales of human placenta continue to flourish online, despite a government ban on the trade and warnings from health experts about the risk of disease.

Taobao, the country's largest online marketplace, is awash with vendors offering dried or ground placenta, a popular ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Several traders contacted by China Daily said their products were secretly purchased from staff members at hospitals and specialized maternity clinics, without the knowledge of new mothers.

"I've got relatives working in hospitals, and the quality of the products is guaranteed," said a Shanghai-based e-trader who refused to be identified for fear of repercussions.

His online ID is "One Night in Guangzhou".

According to the sales record of his Taobao store, he has sold 42 placentas in the past 85 days.

Placenta, a vascular organ discharged shortly after birth, is believed to be full of protein and nutrients, and according to TCM doctors can help improve the immune system, slow the aging process and cure impotence and infertility.

However, due to disease concerns, the Ministry of Health banned the trade of placenta in 2005.

"For sanitary reasons, only a new mother can ask for her placenta from hospital staff," said Ma Yanming, spokesman for the Beijing municipal health bureau. "But if the woman doesn't want it or the placenta is deemed unhealthy, the hospital must have it burned and buried as medical waste."

However, Wang Ping, a doctor at a maternity care unit in Juqiao township, Central China's Henan province, said the sale of placentas by hospitals to pharmaceutical companies remains common.

She said that healthy placentas are often sold after the mother has given permission for it to be destroyed. Factories then dry and process it into ziheche, which is available in markets nationwide.

One mother expressed her disgust at the thought of her placenta being sold without her knowledge.

"It's gross thinking of people eating my placenta," said Han Dongli, 35, who gave birth eight months ago in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan province.

"It's OK for a hospital to take my placenta for study and research, but never for stewing it with herbs or wrapping into dumplings, never."

She also said she would not eat placenta.

Wang said roughly 90 percent of new mothers in urban areas choose to let hospitals dispose of their placentas and cared little about how the organs were deal with it.

However, about 80 percent in rural areas preferred to keep the placenta to bury in their backyards, a traditional custom that is meant to bless the family, she said.

Li Lin, a teaching assistant at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said placenta had been used since ancient times to fight the effects of aging and treat kidney and heart problems.

"My grandfather suffered from anemia and has improved since taking placenta capsules," the 24-year-old said. "He either takes a powder capsule or puts the placenta into dumplings. Some may also brew it with herbs."

However, Wang warned that placenta was not for everyone. She said people should consult a TCM doctor before consumption to see whether they were fit.

"The quality of placenta is important as well," Wang said. "If the mother is sick, the placenta may carry germs."

In response to the huge sales of placenta online, the Ministry of Health has issued a notice warning that the practice is "against regulations".

However, it added that the regulation was limited to hospitals. Mothers who choose to keep their placentas can pass them on or even sell them. 

Strange herbs

* Yemingsha, dried bat excrement, is used to cure eye illnesses such as glaucoma and inflammation.

* Renzhonghuang is processed licorice root that is put into bamboo knots and sunk in manure pits for some time. It is intended to clear heat and resolve blood stasis.

* Goubao, stones taken from dogs' stomachs, kidneys and gallbladders, is used to relieve depression and is a major ingredient in medicines that treat gastric and esophageal cancer.

* Xianzhufeng, the dried bodies of carpenter bees, is used as an expectorant and also to clear heat and stop convulsions.

* Jineijin, or membrane of chicken's gizzard, can mainly cure indigestion and excessive sweating.

* Dongchongxiacao, or Chinese caterpillar fungus, is usually ground into a powder and mixed with water to boost stamina. 


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