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February 21, 2010

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Retailers back bear bile battle

MORE than 30 shops from four popular Chinese pharmacy chains last week became the first retailers to join Animals Asia's new campaign to end the use of bear bile products in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

Thirty-three drug stores in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, now have their doors and counters emblazoned with stickers proclaiming loud and clear: "We don't sell bear parts."

The chains sell both Chinese and Western medicine. Bear bile is commonly sold in such shops, and more frequently in TCM shops.

Staff from Animals Asia's Chengdu Moon Bear Rescue Center visited the stores from the chains, Furong, Chengdu Super, Dahua and Guangpeng Pharmacies, handing out stickers and buying up any leftover bear bile in stock. The bile was burnt on the streets outside the shops -- attracting much attention from passers-by.

Animals Asia's Founder and CEO, Jill Robinson, said the sticker crusade, the latest in its ongoing "Healing Without Harm" campaign, was launched recently because it was the anniversary of the death of three-legged Andrew, the first moon bear rescued by Animals Asia.

"When Andrew died from chronic liver cancer in 2006, we vowed his death would not be in vain. This gentle, forgiving bear was chosen as the face of our campaign as he is the perfect symbol of his majestic species and a tragic reminder of all that is wrong with the bile industry.

"Many pharmacies are unaware they are selling endangered wildlife products. These 33 shops are setting a great example for the rest of the trade. By refusing to sell bear parts, these pharmacists are preserving the very essence of TCM -- healing through harmony with nature," Robinson said.

"They are also helping to preserve the beauty of these highly endangered bears for the next generation."

Animals Asia's Director of External Affairs, Toby Zhang, said one of the outlets from the Dahua Pharmacy chain had agreed to display two jars, one containing a healthy moon bear's liver, the other a diseased liver from a bear subjected to bile extraction.

"We want people to see for themselves the damage caused by the bile milking process. If they understand just how sick the bears on farms are, surely they'll think twice about consuming bile extracted from them," Zhang said.

Bear bile has been used in TCM for around 3,000 years as an anti-inflammatory for "heat-related" ailments, such as eye and liver disease. It was only in the 1980s that entrepreneurs in South Korea and China began caging and milking the bears for their bile.

A permanent hole is carved into the bear's abdomen through to the gall bladder. The bile drips freely from the gall bladder through this infected hole. The bears are kept in cages the size of their bodies.

Farmers claim this free-drip method is "humane." However, almost 30 percent of rescued free-drip bears have abdominal abscesses and most have pus-infected bile. Pathologists, who have examined the gall bladders of bears rescued from farms, have warned against consuming bile from farmed bears.

"The only reason many of the bears on farms are alive today and their ravaged gall bladders are still producing bile is that they are being pumped full of antibiotics. Some even have advanced liver cancer, and still they are kept alive so the farmers can drain the last drops of bile," Zhang said. "This is the bile that is given to people who are ill."

Robinson, who is a Council Member of the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies Herbal Committee, said she hoped to see many more TCM pharmacies and practitioners throughout China joining the campaign soon.

"Fifty-four substitutes for bear bile are listed in the Chinese pharmacopeia and there are many synthetic alternatives as well, so there is simply no need for anyone to consume bear bile today."


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