The southwestern city of Chongqing has suspended the sale of products that contain bear bile for making false medicinal claims.
The Chongqing food and drug administration said Wednesday that pharmacies would no longer be allowed to sell liquor, powder, and capsules that contain bear bile. The over-the-counter products were specifically targeted for exaggerating health benefits and misleading consumers, according to the official announcement.
Bear bile, the yellow fluid extracted from a bear’s gallbladder, is believed to cure illness and strengthen the immune system. According to the nonprofit Earth Trust, a bear can produce between 1 and 2.5 kilograms of bile each year. However, animal welfare activists condemn the extraction method as barbaric, and have fought the practice for decades.
It is unclear if Wednesday’s announcement was a temporary measure, or whether it was related to animal welfare. The bureau declined to comment when Sixth Tone called Friday.
The ethics and efficacy of animal products in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have long been controversial. The trade of tiger bones and rhino horns, also used in TCM, have been banned since 1993, while others, such as pangolin scales, are now strictly controlled. But TCM supporters — including some lawmakers — have defended the use of animal products, arguing that the rare ingredients are more effective.
In 2016, China revised its Wildlife Protection Law, discouraging the breeding of wild animals except for scientific research and preservation purposes. Yet captive breeding of wildlife for commercial purposes is still legal. An estimated 20,000 bears are still captive in 68 legal farms across China, according to the research arm of China’s cabinet, which had put forward a proposal to end the practice that was sunk by the Chinese Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
This isn’t the first time Chongqing has suspended the sale of products with bear bile. Two years ago, the city’s food and drug administration bureau issued a similar directive, citing health measures.
A younger and more informed generation at home is increasingly concerned about animal cruelty. Some netizens see Chongqing’s suspension of bear bile products as progress. On Quora-like forum Zhihu, one user said it was “a victory for mankind.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: A bear statuette is displayed at a Guizhentang pharmacy in Beijing, Feb. 17, 2011. Jason Yang/VCG)