TCM on the horns of a moral dilemma

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By XIN­HUA

The tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine in­dus­try is fac­ing a dilemma: Should it re­place tiger bones and rhino horns used in its medicine to please an­i­mal-rights ac­tivists at the cost of re­duc­ing po­ten­tial heal­ing ef­fects?

China is­sued its first white pa­per on TCM on Tues­day, high­light­ing both the devel­op­ment of the mod­ern TCM phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try and the tra­di­tional roots of an­cient ther­a­pies.

An­i­mal-rights ac­tivists have long raised ques­tions over TCM be­cause many tra­di­tional for­mula con­tain an­i­mal parts or el­e­ments ex­tracted from them.

Zheng Jin, head of the Yun­nan pro­vin­cial TCM ad­min­is­tra­tion, said that with in­creased pub­lic aware­ness of an­i­mal pro­tec­tion, the TCM in­dus­try is pro­mot­ing the use of sub­sti­tutes for wild an­i­mal parts.

There are gen­er­ally two ways for mak­ing sub­sti­tutes of an­i­mal prod­ucts in TCM — ei­ther find­ing al­ter­na­tive an­i­mals or ar­ti­fi­cial syn­the­sis, Zheng said.

In Jan­uary, the sci­en­tific devel­op­ment of syn­thetic muskone to re­place that ex­tracted from musk deer won first prize at the China Na­tional Science and Tech- nol­ogy Progress Awards. The el­e­ment is widely used in TCM drugs to help blood cir­cu­la­tion and treat mi­nor strokes.

Zheng said a num­ber of com­pa­nies in Yun­nan are con­duct­ing ex­per­i­ments fo­cused on rais­ing rhi­nos, as rhino horns are one of the com­po­nents used in both TCM and medicine in coun­tries in the Mid­dle East and Asia. It is said to help treat ty­phus and snake poi­son.

Zheng said that through ar­ti­fi­cial feed­ing, com­pa­nies are able to gather pieces of rhino horn, like trim­ming a fin­ger nail, with the horns re­gen­er­at­ing.

It is now com­mon among TCM doc­tors to re­place rhino horn with buf­falo horn, as well as us­ing two other in­gre­di­ents to re­place bear gall. But many TCM doc­tors say such replacements un­der­mine the ef­fec­tive­ness of the medicine.

A Chi­nese bear bile com­pany halted its IPO bid twice af­ter an­i­mal-rights ac­tivists waged a me­dia war con- demn­ing it for rais­ing bears and ex­tract­ing bile from their gall blad­ders.

Fu­jian Guizhen­tang Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal, based in South­east China’s Fu­jian prov­ince, has stuck to the use of bear bile in mak­ing tra­di­tional medicine.

The com­pany has its own bear farm for the ex­trac­tion of bile from live caged bears via catheters in their bod­ies. The prac­tice is con­sid­ered cruel and painful.

Bei­jing Ton­grentang (Group), one of China’s most pres­ti­gious TCM phar­ma­cies, said it has set up 130 over­seas sub­sidiaries in 25 coun­tries and re­gions since 1993.

At present, many Ton­grentang medicines use syn­thet­ics to re­place an­i­mal el­e­ments, in­clud­ing tiger bones and musk.

“The tech­nol­ogy for mak­ing ar­ti­fi­cial sub­sti­tutes is now very ma­ture. The sub­sti­tutes pro­vide a good sup­ple­ment,” said Tian Rui­hua, chief engi­neer of the com­pany.

“How­ever, as TCM cul­ture is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in the West, Ton­grentang — as a cen­tu­ry­old TCM phar­macy — aims to re­turn to us­ing tra­di­tional TCM meth­ods to pre­serve the essence of an­cient ther­apy,” Tian said.

Ton­grentang ... aims to re­turn to us­ing tra­di­tional TCM meth­ods to pre­serve the essence of an­cient ther­apy.” Tian Rui­hua, chief engi­neer of Bei­jing Ton­grentang (Group), one of China’s most pres­ti­gious TCM phar­ma­cies

The uses of bear bile and rhino horn in mak­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine is protested against by an­i­mal-wel­fare ac­tivists.

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