Shark Citizen is an NGO dedicated to marine conservation and societies’ sustainable interactions with sharks. We hereby ask companies in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and nutraceutics (i.e. dietary supplements) industries to stop using products made from dead sharks, which either do not work or are unhealthy, often include endangered species of sharks and can be replaced by products that don’t hurt the environment (like vegetable substitutes). Besides, we demand that those companies no longer use manipulation techniques with customers and develop a transparency policy.
For instance, the brand OMOJO uses ingredients from a provider who buys its products from an Asian factory that exploits more than 600 whale sharks per year, according to WildLifeRisk. This factory recently made the headlines for its horrendous practices, and we believe that several brands available on the French market beside OMOJO use products from the same source.
Read publication: Whale shark liver oil: will you swallow that? (in French)
Other brands like Vichy, Nocea, Orthonat and dozens more profusely feed this market.
The list is on Shark Citizen’s website (in French).
In 2013, Shark Citizen conducted a several-month survey of brands using shark products, and we were not pleased by what we found out…
Shark products (cartilage or liver oil mostly) can be found in many products on the European market, while the word “shark” is hardly ever mentioned on the packaging or corresponding manual.
Whether it is alkylglycerol, glucosamin, chondroitin, squalene or other substances, most of the times no information is provided on the nature or origin of the products. Our investigation revealed a complex and ever-changing international supply chain that includes a large number of middlemen, an unsuspected quantity of substances and a widespread law of silence which hardly encourages confidence: most brands refuse to communicate on the origin of their raw materials, on the manufacturing processes implied, on their suppliers and partners (such as laboratories).
When a consumer calls customers services to ask for details, chances are they’ll experience more or less courteous rejection, under the guise of “trade secret”. Very little information on the species and their origin will be “disclosed”. The consumer who cares about their health and the environment will also be confronted to shameful selling techniques from people who have been trained to use dishonest arguments and commercial speeches with a view to bamboozling and tranquillizing the uninitiated customer.
Last year, on the French market only, we listed more than 200 brands that officially use shark products: mainly cartilage, shark liver oil, chimaera liver oil and chondroitin extracted from cartilage. Deceptive marketing techniques are nearly systematic: salespersons praise the supposedly “proven” benefits of the products; they mention “many studies” and use to their advantage the myth of the miraculous shark that can heal cancer of Alzheimer’s disease; they pretend that sexual performances will improve and quote renowned doctors. It’s all about playing with people’s fears, weaknesses and beliefs.
In the end, while the IUCN reports that 25% of the world’s sharks, rays and chimaeras species are threatened, shark products have never been more popular. They rank amongst the brands’ bestsellers and one can even find them in sports nutrition as well as in the veterinary sector (as treatments for osteoarthritis).
– Read publication: Threatened chondrichthyes in France (in French).
We’ve contacted all the brands. Those who replied told us that their products’ anticancer properties were scientifically demonstrated, some claimed to respect the marine ecosystem by using so-called “breeding sharks”.
First of all, pretending to use breeding sharks is a blatant lie in so far as those do not exist. Sharks reach sexual maturity very late and it would simply not be a viable option.
Then, about shark products’ alleged anticancer properties: studies have shown a lack of scientific basis for such claims. The tests that are put forward by the industries are riddled with shortcomings: most tests have been performed by the industries themselves and use inadequate protocols; when protocols are proper, no significant improvement in the subjects’ quality of life can be observed; to this day scientists have no specific knowledge on the support of the tested substances’ biological activity. It is true to say that there is a protein contained in cartilage that has antiangiogenic properties, which means it can inhibit the production of blood vessels that would normally irrigate tumours. Some doctors believe this would thus lead to the decay or death of those tumours, and some phase II* clinical trials have indeed demonstrated that it can work in a lab. But in phase III*, the tests failed: no statistically significant differences could be observed between the patients who were treated with the molecule and those who were given a placebo.
It must be stressed than the abovementioned antiangiogenic properties are also found in other types of cartilage (like bovine cartilage). So there is no specific need for sharks, it is merely a myth cleverly maintained by marketing professionals. Besides, the cartilage is dried and powdered before being used as ingredient in the manufacturing of the products, but these processes imply dramatic changes in temperature and humidity and provoke oxidation, which systematically degrade proteins, which lose their biochemical properties.
– Read article: Cartilage and anticancer properties: really? (in French)
How many sharks are killed in order to manufacture such products? It’s impossible to get a precise figure because laboratories and raw materials suppliers refuse to disclose such data, and customs statistics aren’t accurate enough (for instance, they only reference “fish oil” without details on the species). But official estimates exceed 6 millions of sharks per year.
Such a slaughter to sell products that don’t work? No, much worse than that: those products are downright unhealthy!
Indeed, sharks are top predators who accumulate in their bodies large quantities of hydrocarbons, pesticides, heavy metals and other chemical pollutants that we dump in nature. Most of these remain toxic even after the aforementioned industrial transformations. Therefore, the levels of methylmercury – the most dangerous of mercury compounds, which impacts the nervous system and kidneys – can be very high, as well as the concentrations of neurotoxins that significantly increase the risk of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
These brands sell products that are very often harmful. It is all the more shameful as there exist effective alternatives: herbal products to treat osteoarthritis, squalene made from olives or sugarcane.
In addition to the public health issue, the environmental impact is massive. According to a study conducted in 2012 by ETC Group, the annual demand for squalene varies between 1,000 and 2,000 tons, which is enormous in as much as it takes around 3,000 shark livers to produce a single ton of it.
Sharks are crucial to the balance of the marine food chain, but they’re under great strain from widespread overfishing. Current practices literally empty our oceans of life, and the industries mentioned here play a part in this process. In less than 20 years, more than a third of deep-sea shark species have made it onto the IUCN’s list of threatened species.
The survival of the global marine ecosystem – hence that of the entire biosphere, humans included – depends on the urgent steps we take to ensure the preservation of these animals in a critical situation. In this context, it is utterly irresponsible for brands to encourage the consumption of shark products if there are substitutes.
The brands’ opacity is a matter of basic respect for the consumer: people have no means to really know the nature, origin and properties of what they swallow or put on their skin. And those who try to find out more are lied to or are kept in the dark by industries that can always take refuge behind the magic argument: no law forces them to specify their ingredients (species, animal or vegetable nature, etc.) or their origin!
Because of all these factors, Shark Citizen decided to launch this petition.
By signing it, you ask all brands that sell such products to replace substances from sharks with safe plant-based substitutes every time it’s possible (which is most of the times), to stop using false arguments and start communicating in a transparent and respectable manner. There is no doubt that the ones that will prove willing to improve their processes and policies to better respect customers and the environment will be able to use these positive efforts as an effective sales argument, and will as well affect their competitors so that the whole sector may evolve towards more responsible practices.