Chinese doctors to call for 'cruel' bear farms to be closed China's bear farms, where for decades bile has been extracted from the endangered animals in horrific conditions, have been condemned by eminent Chinese scientists. Chinese doctors to call for 'cruel' bear farms to be closed On the farms, the bears are milked for their bile through crude holes cut into the abdomen wall and the gall bladder.
By David Harrison
28 Aug 2011
At a conference in London on Friday, the experts will say there is no justification for the farms because their latest research has shown that that herbal substitutes have greater health benefits than those claimed for bear bile which is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The rare public criticism of 'bile farms' by traditional Chinese medicine experts will be led by Dr Yibin Feng, an associate professor and assistant director at the School of Chinese Medicine at the University of Hong Kong.
He will unveil new research showing that the bears' suffering on the farms is "unnecessary" and will call for the farms to be closed down.
"Bears are being inhumanely treated and bear farming must end in the near future," Dr Feng will tell the conference in Westminster.
"Our research provides evidence that other easily available animal bile and plants can be used as bear bile substitutes."
His conclusions will delight campaigners who for years have fought against the farms and freed hundreds of bears from captivity.
They claim that opposition to the industry is growing as China's burgeoning middle class become increasingly opposed to such cruelty.
Dr Feng will warn the World Traditional Chinese Medicine Congress conference, however, that opponents face a hard battle with traditionalists who remain convinced that real bear bile can help cure many ailments including stomach and digestive disorders and kidney problems. Many people, including government officials, will refuse to accept substitutes, he will say.
On the farms, the bears - mostly Asiatic black bears - are kept in tiny, cramped cages and milked for their bile through crude holes cut into the abdomen wall and the gall bladder.
The wounds are deliberately left open, leaving the bears exposed to infection and disease. They are kept hungry and denied free access to water because this helps produce more bile.
The farms are still found in many parts of China and other Asian countries, fuelling poaching and illegal trade in the animals.
Dr Feng's research shows that herbal alternatives and bile from other animals such as cattle - which can be collected cheaply at abattoirs - can be more effective than bear bile.
He will argue that growing opposition to animal substitutes will mean that, eventually, only plant substitutes will be acceptable. "The final choice will have to be to use plants to substitute bear bile," he will tell the conference at Central Hall.
"Completely replacing the real one in chemical compositions is really difficult, but it is possible and we are close to proving the reality which is that the pharmacological effects of the substitute are better than those of the real one."
Animal welfare campaigners point to growing opposition to the farms inside China. Earlier this year the owner of one of the biggest bear bile farms in China - who also owns a large pharmaceutical company - sparked protests in China when he applied for approval to list his company on a stock exchange.
Another speaker at the conference, Toby Zhang, of the charity Animals Asia, said: "There has been a groundswell of public opinion against bear bile farming which shows that the Chinese people are increasingly concerned about animal welfare issues. Now even traditional medicine doctors are advising against the use of bear bile."
Jill Robinson, the English founder and chief executive of the charity, which has a sanctuary for rescued bears in China, said: "Bears are dying in droves across the country in conditions that are just as horrendous as they were when we began rescuing bears in 1995. This appalling trade has to end.
"There are over 54 different herbal alternatives and man-made synthetics that can take their place. No one is going to die from a lack of bear bile."
In December 2009, 19 of China's mainland provinces committed to becoming bear farm free. Another province, Shandong, closed its last bear farm in 2010.
But there is growing concern that the bear bile trade is still widespread throughout Asia.
The Chinese government estimates that there are currently between 7,000 and 10,000 bears kept for their bile in China. There are an estimated 16,000 Asiatic bears living in the wild.
A report in May by TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring network, found that poaching and illegal trade of bears, "continues unabated", and on a large scale, mostly in China, but also in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam.
The most common products on sale were pills and whole bear gall bladders where the bile secreted by the liver is stored.
International trade in the bears, and their parts and derivatives, is prohibited under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The report found that the ban was widely flouted. Domestic trade of bear bile is legal but regulated in China and Japan and illegal in other countries.
Bear bile has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 3,000 years.
Until about 30 years ago, the only way to acquire bear bile was by killing a wild animal and removing its gall bladder. In the early 1980s bear farms began appearing in North Korea and quickly spread to China.
Bears rescued from farms by Animals Asia are found to be suffering from liver cancer, blindness, shattered teeth and ulcerated gums. Contaminated bile from sick bears poses a threat to human health.
The campaign has won support from celebrities including Joanna Lumley, the actress. "Bear farming is a cruel and unnecessary practice," she said.
"The bears are suffering and dying from liver cancers - and doctors in Asia are now urgently highlighting concerns for those who consume the diseased bile."
Karen Mok, China's biggest music star, said: "Animals deserve to live in a world without fear or suffering. We must all help the thousands of bears suffering terrible cruelty."
Dr Jidong Wu, president of the UK association of traditional Chinese medicine at Middlesex university, which prohibits the use of bear bile by its practitioners, said extracting bear bile was "inhumane and unethical" and "against the general principle and law of traditional Chinese medicine which emphasizes keeping the balance between mankind and nature."