By Yu Ran (China Daily)
BEIJING - Up to 60 non-government organizations led by Animals Asia Foundation have raised objections to the use of bear bile in traditional Chinese medicine and are asking that the bear farms connected with the industry be shut down.
The complaint comes as Guizhentang Pharmaceuticals Company - which makes bile extract using captive black bears - is attempting to become publicly listed.
The NGOs argue that any company making a profit from bear bile is inhumane and is acting against the welfare of black bears, which are protected in China.
Guizhentang's public offering has been approved by authorities in Fujian province, and the company hopes it can increase the number of bears on its farms to 1,200.
"The increase in the number of farmed bears will directly damage the protection of bears and severely threaten the endangered species," said Zhang Xiaohai, director of external affairs of Animals Asia Foundation's China Office, which is based in Hong Kong.
Guizhentang offers all sorts of products containing extracts from bears' gall bladders, including eye drops and bear bile powders. "We're working on a response to the public and will release our statement soon," said Qiu Haidong, general manager of Guizhentang. Qiu declined to make further comments.
Bear bile, a common ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, is believed to benefit the liver and eyes. Since the 1980s, captive breeding has replaced the original method of killing wild black bears to get the bile. However, animal welfare activists have criticized the methods applied to extract bear bile as cruel and inhumane.
"Infected wounds and repeated extractions, as well as the lifelong cage confinement, will cause bears to suffer serious physical and psychological damage, and ultimately lead to death," said Zhang.
The black bear is listed as a protected animal in China's Law on the Protection of Wildlife, which stipulates that anyone hunting or catching bears without a permit will be subject to severe punishment.
According to statistics from the State Forestry Administration, the number of licensed bear farms has been reduced to 68. By the end of 2006, about 7,000 bears had been bred in China. The government has not issued new licenses since then.
However, Zhang and his team members found 97 bear farms with approximately 10,000 bears through a two-year investigation.
Zhang added that a more reasonable solution should be reached to eliminate the bear bile industry and find a substitute product with the same effect.
In fact, experts at Shenyang Pharmaceutical University have been researching artificial bear bile since 1983.
"The team submitted the completed research results and clinical trials of the artificial bear bile in September 2007 to the Center for Drug Evaluation, State Food and Drug Administration and has failed to receive any response so far," said Jiang Zhuquan, the director of Shenyang Hua Xing Medical Research Institute, which is a partner of the artificial bear bile team.
Jiang added that a formal response with either an approval or suggestion for improvements from the administration usually comes six months after submission.
He Dan contributed to this story.