Chinese Government Criticized For Promoting Bear Bile To Treat Coronavirus

'Wild animals being used as a source for traditional medicine is one of the cruelest abuses in the world'
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Bear bile farming is extremely cruel, according to animal advocates (Photo: We Animals/Jo-Anne McArthur)

Bear bile farming is extremely cruel, according to animal advocates (Photo: We Animals/Jo-Anne McArthur)

The Chinese government has been criticized for recommending a medicine that includes bear bile to treat severe coronavirus patients, according to reports.

It is understood that the virus originated in a wet market in Wuhan - where live animals are sold and slaughtered alongside dead ones - in December 2019. Since then it has spread globally, with the death toll hitting more than 43,000 at the time of writing.

China's National Health Commission - which is responsible for national health policy - published a list of recommended treatments earlier this month, which includes both traditional and Western treatments for the virus. One was Tan Re Qing - which includes goat horn powder and various plants, as well as bear bile powder.

Bear bile farming

According to Animals Asia, bear bile farming is extremely cruel. The organization says: "Most farmed bears are kept in tiny cages, sometimes so small that the bears are unable to turn around or stand on all fours. Some bears are put into cages as cubs and never leave them, existing for up to 30 years under these conditions. 

"Often they grow too large to be removed through the cage door upon rescue, and bear the scars of the tight cage bars on their bodies. This not only has a severe impact on their physical health, but also on their psychological well-being."

'Heal without harm'

As a result, the charity released a statement condemning the promotion of bear bile as a treatment. It said: "Animals Asia believes we shouldn't be relying on wildlife products like bear bile as the solution to combat a deadly virus that appears to have originated from wildlife. It is accurate to assert the active ingredient in bear bile, UDCA, is effective in treating some conditions. 

"This is the reason it has been produced synthetically (not using bile from bears) for decades and sold by the tonne across the world. Additionally, we understand according to the National Health Commission, Tanreqing has been used to successfully treat respiratory conditions like pneumonia and similar illnesses to COVID-19 for several years with success. 

"However, traditional Chinese medicine has thousands of years of practical application and knowledge to draw upon, together with a philosophy of balancing harmony and peace with the environment. Such medicines should heal without harm."

'Mixed messages'

As well as being bear bile being cruel, some have criticized the Chinese government for being unclear, by recommending using wildlife cures, while at the same time placing restrictions on the consumption of wildlife.

Aron White, a China specialist with the Environmental Investigation Agency, said: "Restricting the eating of wildlife while promoting medicines containing wildlife parts exemplifies the mixed messages being sent by Chinese authorities on wildlife trade.

"Aside from the irony of promoting a wildlife product for treatment of a disease which the scientific community has overwhelmingly concluded originated in wildlife, the continued promotion of the use of threatened wildlife in medicine is hugely irresponsible in an era of unprecedented biodiversity loss, including illegal and unsustainable trade.

"At this moment in history, as the world is crippled by the coronavirus pandemic, there could be no better time to end the use of the parts of threatened wildlife in medicine, especially as recent surveys conducted in China showed the vast majority of respondents were opposed to use of wildlife in medicine."

According to a 2011 poll by Animals Asia, 87 percent of Chinese people interviewed disagree with the practice of bear bile farming.

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