OFF THE SHELVES

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By YANG YAO in Chengdu yangyao@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Pharmacies say no to con­tro­ver­sial bear bile

Around 150 Chi­nese drug­stores in Chengdu an­nounced on Thurs­day that they would stop sell­ing prod­ucts con­tain­ing bear bile pow­der, giv­ing a boost to an­i­mal rights ac­tivists in China’s long-run­ning de­bate over the ex­trac­tion of bile from live bears.

Over 100 drug­stores in Shenyang, Zhuhai and other cities made the same pledge in 2012.

More than 260 drug­stores have openly op­posed the sale of the prod­uct, which is used in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine to treat fever and con­di­tions of the liver, heart, cir­cu­la­tion and eyes, ac­cord­ing to Zhong Yuan­wei, a man­ager with Dahua Phar­macy com­pany in Chengdu.

He said his com­pany has not sold the prod­ucts since 2010 when a video cir­cu­lated on the Chi­nese Sina Weibo mi­cro blog site re­veal­ing the method by which bear bile is ex­tracted from Asi­atic black bears, prompt­ing con­cerns among an­i­mal rights ac­tivists and an­i­mal lovers.

The method in­volves insert­ing a tube into the bear’s gall blad­der and ex­tract­ing the bile while the an­i­mal is alive. Bears are kept in small cages for pe­ri­ods of 10 years of more so that large amounts of bile can be ex­tracted.

Zhong said that heal­ing hu­man dis­eases should be pos­si­ble with­out cru­elty to an­i­mals.

In or­der to fur­ther boy­cott the bear bile in­dus­try, Zhong’s com­pany has formed an al­liance with other phar­macy chain stores, all of which pro­hibit the sale of bear bile prod­ucts.

“Af­ter we got to know the in­dus­try, we found that there is a shared sym­pa­thy for the bears, and most of the cus­tomers agree too,” Zhong said.

Zhong said that he is con­tribut­ing to the progress of an­i­mal wel­fare in the coun­try, which de­pends on rais­ing aware­ness of the is­sues.

He said the com­pany has suf­fered some loss in busi­ness but not much. He said that he has not re­ceived any form of sub­sidy or com­pen­sa­tion from the govern­ment or any other or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Zhong, very few cus­tomers come to stores ask­ing for bear bile prod­ucts th­ese days. When some­one asks for such prod­ucts, his sales as­sis­tants ex­plain the rea­son why they stopped sell­ing it, and most cus­tomers seem to un­der­stand.

“There are five or six dif­fer­ent medicines of this kind, but they can all be re­placed with oth­ers,” he said, giv­ing the ex­am­ple of bear bile eye­drops, which can be re­placed with a prod­uct made from pearl pow­der.

Liu Zheng­cai, a prom­i­nent tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine doc­tor, is a lead­ing sup­porter of the cam­paign.

He said that he never uses bear bile in medicines, pre­fer­ring al­ter­na­tive her­bal medicines like Euro­pean ver­bena and heartleaf hout­tuy­nia.

How­ever, he is still in a mi­nor­ity among doc­tors of tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine.

The China As­so­ci­a­tion of Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine an­nounced on Feb 16 last year that bear bile is not re­place­able.

Fang Shut­ing, pres­i­dent of the as­so­ci­a­tion, also said in a press re­lease that the pre­vi­ous re­ports about the prac­tice of draw­ing bile from live bears had greatly ex­ag­ger­ated the an­i­mals’ suf­fer­ing and cer­tain or­ga­ni­za­tions had used gory pho­tos to mis­lead the pub­lic and ma­lign the bear bile in­dus­try.

He said that the phi­los­o­phy of the China As­so­ci­a­tion of Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine was sci­en­tific con­ser­va­tion, ra­tio­nal use and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, a view echoed by Yan Xun, deputy head of the Wildlife An­i­mal Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity un­der the State Forestry Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Hu­man so­ci­ety re­lies on an­i­mals to grow. One can­not sim­ply em­pha­size pro­tec­tion,” said Yan.

He said that be­fore this method was in­tro­duced from Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea to China in the 1980s, peo­ple killed bears to ex­tract bile, which was more cruel.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has no plans yet to ban the in­dus­try. How­ever, pub­lic dis­con­tent has been mov­ing faster than the pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

Guizhen­tang, China’s largest man­u­fac­turer of bear-bile prod­ucts and the big­gest owner of cap­tive black bears in south­ern China, was plan­ning an ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing last year. But due to in­creas­ing op­po­si­tion and crit­i­cism, the com­pany with­drew its plan on June 2 this year.

The com­pany gave no re­sponse to Thurs­day’s boy­cott in Chengdu when con­tacted by a China Daily re­porter.

The new boy­cott in Chengdu does not sig­nal an end to the bat­tle be­tween tra­di­tional medicine lob­by­ists and an­i­mal rights cam­paign­ers.

For an­i­mal wel­fare ad­vo­cates, the chal­lenge is to con­vince Chi­nese con­sumers that the cru­elty of bile farm­ing out­weighs the medic­i­nal ben­e­fits and there is also a health risk as­so­ci­ated with con­sum­ing bile from sick bears.

Ac­cord­ing to the An­i­mals Asia Foun­da­tion, a char­ity in Hong Kong that cam­paigns against the bear bile in­dus­try, there are an es­ti­mated 20,000 bears be­ing kept on nearly 100 bear farms in China.

The char­ity has man­aged to pro­vide a new life for some bears al­ready, cre­at­ing a wildlife sanc­tu­ary with the help of forestry au­thor­i­ties in Sichuan, and set­ting the an­i­mals free there. Most of them came from farms closed by the au­thor­i­ties be­cause they had fewer than 50 bears, a vi­o­la­tion of in­dus­try rules.

ZHANG YUSHU FOR CHINA DAILY

Vet­eri­nar­i­ans and nurses from An­i­mals Asia Foun­da­tion per­form a health check on an Asian black bear at the Sichuan Longqiao Moon Bear Sanc­tu­ary in Chengdu, Sichuan prov­ince, on April 27, 2010. Bears suf­fer var­i­ous ill­nesses af­ter their bile is ex­tracted. More ef­forts are be­ing made to pro­hibit sell­ing bear bile prod­ucts.

Source: An­i­mals Asia FENG XIUXIA, GUILLERMO MUNRO / CHINA DAILY

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