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Asian Bear Bile Remedies: Traditional Medicine or Barbarism?

Imagine living 20 years spending 24 hours a day in a cage that tightly fits your body, not giving you room to stand up, stretch out, turn around, or move at all.

Imagine that twice a day during these years you would have a metal catheter inserted into a hole which has been cut into your abdomen, allowing the catheter to easily puncture your gall bladder, or maybe a long syringe inserted into your gall bladder, piercing through your skin again and again, by people who are not doctors.

Imagine becoming infected and cancerous because of this twice-daily physical invasion, and becoming neurotic due to your claustrophobic imprisonment.

Imagine having one or both of your hands cut off so someone can sell them for a lot of money.

Imagine you begin to chew at your hands, if you are lucky enough to have one or both left, due to your developing neuroticism, and to distract yourself from the pain you experience twice a day, every day, for your entire life.

This is reality for an estimated minimum of 12,000 bears across Asia.

– Sara Pegarella, JD

Currently, animal activists across China are up in arms because Gui Zhen Tang Pharmaceutical Corporation, a Fujian-based company that sells bear bile for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), has tried to increase production through an initial public offering (IPO). The company is being accused of cruelty towards animals in the process of extracting their bile at an industrial scale. Bear bile, or Xiong Dan (熊胆), is an important ingredient in TCM.


The issue is not new: since the early 2000s, animal activists have circulated hundreds of shocking articles, images, and videos that recount unimaginable cruelty towards caged bears in Asia. The practice has even outraged celebrities, such as Jackie Chan, who have pleaded with consumers to stop buying products made from bears and other endangered species. But now it’s all over the news. Gui Zhen Tang’s IPO has met with fierce public opposition, and has once again led environmentalists to appeal against the cruelty of live bear bile extraction.

As this documentary shows, bear bile is sold throughout Asia for a variety of conditions. The Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica (1986) by Dan Bensky, Andrew Gamble, and Ted Kaptchuk lists bear bile as a remedy for trauma, sprains, fractures, hemorrhoids, conjunctivitis, severe hepatitis, high fever, convulsions, and delirium. The Materia Medica also states that “because of the high price of bear bile (Xiong Dan), often cow bile, Fei Bovus (Niu Dan), is substituted at a higher dose.”1 There is no mention, however, of the horrific means by which the animal bile is obtained. The guide also lists other animal products (rhinoceros horn, tiger bones, deer musk, and bat and squirrel feces [sic]) used as medicine.

Image 1. The bear bile entry in the 1986 version of Materia Medica by Bensky et al. The entry in the latest edition (3rd ed. 2004) has been moved to “Obsolete Substances.” Image used with the explicit permission of Eastland Press.

The globalization of TCM has lead to a dramatic increase in the demand for bear bile along with other traditional remedies. Bear bile is sold in Asian apothecaries throughout the world in the form of powder, solution or pills. It is likewise the key ingredient in many Asian “patent medicines” used for tapeworm, childhood nutritional impairment, hangovers, colds, and even cancer. Bear bile is even found in Chinese throat lozenges, shampoo, wine, and tea.

Image 2. Raw bear bile in both liquid and powder forms. Photo: Kathleen E. McLaughlin, the Chronicle Foreign Service correspondent in Beijing

Overall, the worldwide trade in bear parts, including bile, is estimated to be a $2 billion industry. Research in August 2007 by the animal rights group Animals Asia shows its staggering profitability: while the wholesale price of bile powder is around US$410 per kg in China, the retail price increases exponentially to 25 to 50 fold in South Korea, and to 80 fold in Japan (US$33,000 per kg)!

While the trade in bear products is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the importation and trade of bear bile products to North America is illegal under both US and Canadian law, many products are still openly offered for sale in Chinese stores. Back in 2001, when the World Society for the Protection of Animals conducted a probe of Asian shops in Canada and four US cities — Chicago, New York, Washington, and San Francisco — it found that 91% of the shops surveyed sold some form of bear part, including farmed bile powder, bile medicines, and whole gallbladders, which the merchants claimed originated from wild bears in China. When WildAid, an animal rights group based in San Francisco, sent an undercover investigator into Chinatown in 2004, two shopkeepers readily produced vials in velvet-lined boxes with pictures of a bears on the lid.

Bear bile is obtained through surgically implanting a tube in the animal, in a process called “milking,” that produces an average 15 ml (.5 oz) of bile each time. The Humane Society of the United States reports that the process of milking is so painful for the bears that they moan and often chew their paws during the procedure. In order to make access to the animals easier, the farmers often break the bears’ teeth and pull out their claws, sometimes brutally removing whole digits. If the bears stop producing bile, they are left to die, or are killed for their gallbladder and paws (considered a delicacy in China).

According to Jeanette McDermott, the founder of Ursa Freedom Project, bear farming in Asia increased during the 1980s in response to the dwindling supply of bear parts obtained from bears hunted in the wild. Tragically, the situation grew out of control, and by the early 1990s, there were over 400 bear farms in operation, containing more that 10,000 bears. Plans were in place to increase the number of bears in farms to 40,000 by the year 2000.

Today, China produces 7,000 kilos of bear bile annually, much of which is illegally exported to Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada, and the US. Whole bear gallbladders are also exported: the Humane Society of the United States says smugglers have been caught with gallbladders packed in coffee to conceal their smell, or dipped in chocolate to disguise them as chocolate-covered figs.

Most of the bears used in bile farming are Himalayan black bears (Ursus thibetanus), also known as “Asiatic black bears” or “Moon bears,” due to the cream-colored crescent moon shape on their chests. As their population has decreased by almost 40 percent over the past few decades, they have been listed (since 2000) as among the most critically endangered species on the International Union on Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

A number of the bears in bile farms are captured illegally in the wild as cubs. Poachers either wait to capture new-born cubs until the mother leaves the den in search of food , or sometimes they simply kill her to get to the babies. Some of the cubs are born in captivity — but in either case, bear cubs rarely survive to adulthood — and those who do often grow into the bars of their cages as their bodies mature.

Image 3. Is this traditional medicine or savagery and barbarism? Photo: Cornelius Maarselar/Animals Asia

Animal activists posing as potential clients report that the caged bears moan, writhe in pain, and clutch their stomachs as the bile drains from their bodies. Sometimes the bears try to pull out the catheters. Those that succeed are immobilized in an iron corset. Under-nourished and highly stressed from horrific pain and unnatural confinement, the bears lie in agony, in their own filth.

According to Jeanette McDermott, bile is not the farmers’ only source of profit from the bears. Some farmers amputate one or two paws from live bears to sell to restaurants. When bears are no longer able to secrete bile, they are left to die from sickness or starvation. Bears might endure this torture for up to 25 years, making their lifetime a reality of suffering and pain in the name of “natural” and “traditional” medicine.

Image 4. This metal clamp is placed around bears who might struggle or move around excessively in order to ensure they remain still through the painful bile extraction. Photo: Animals Asia

There are a number of extremely painful techniques used for milking bear bile. Image 4, above, illustrates the common extraction technique that relies on plastic or metal catheters, and often necessitates a metal jacket in order to restrain the bears (the chilling details can be found at the Animals Asia website). Some farms rely on an ultrasound machine to guide a catheter connected to a medicinal pump. In this method, the bears are sedated — usually with ketamine — restrained with ropes, and have their abdomens jabbed repeatedly with four-inch needles until the gallbladder is located. Animals Asia suspects that this process leads to dangerous leakages of bile into the body, and to a slow and agonizing death from peritonitis.

In recent years, China has introduced a new, “humane,” free-dripping extraction method, which does away with the need for catheters. Free-dripping involves carving a permanent hole, or fistula, into the bear’s abdomen and gall bladder, from which bile drips out freely. The damage caused by the bile’s leaking back into the abdomen, together with infection from the permanently open puncture, is even worse than the catheters method, and results in a high mortality rate. Often, the bears’ livers and gallbladders become severely diseased through this process, and the collected bile is contaminated with pus, blood, urine and feces.

Image 5. Sometimes a hollow steel stick is pushed through the bear’s abdomen, and the bile runs into a basin under the cage. In this case, about half of the bears die from infections or other complications. Photo: Animals Asia

Image 6. Ultrasound bile extraction from a bear in Vietnam. Photo: Asia Wild Life

A healthy bear’s bile is as fluid as water, and ranges in color from bright yellow-orange to green. However, Animals Asia’s vets have described bile leaking from the gallbladders of farmed bears as “black sludge.” Eminent Chinese and Vietnamese pathologists have warned the public not to use bile taken from sick bears.

The active substance in bile (of bear and all other mammals) is ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), also known as Ursodiol, which is easily synthesized, and has been available for several decades. It is estimated that 100,000 kilos of synthetic UDCA are already being used each year in China, Japan, and South Korea, and that the total world consumption may double this figure.

Despite the availability and affordability of synthetic UDCA and suitable herbal alternatives, some practitioners obstinately continue to prescribe bear bile, which in turn drives up the market demand, and pressures the Chinese government to continue to allow the practice of bear farming.

The world’s appetite for bear bile and other parts has also led to the hunting and killing of wild bears in the North America. The media reports that the poaching of bear gallbladder for its use in TCM is on the rise in the US. The Los Angles Times, of August 22, 2008, writes that Fish and Game Wardens in California (CA) often report finding dead black bear carcasses that have been skinned and dismembered. The gallbladder is by far the most often stolen part (see the Los Angeles Times of November 29, 2010). The CA animal safety group, BEAR League, reports that since the beginning of 2007, as many as 87 dead bears have been found near state roadsides. On occasion, they report the bears’ heads or paws are cut off, but they also report finding bear carcasses with the gallbladder missing.

Image 7. This California black bear was struck and killed on State Highway 89 near Lake Tahoe in August 2008. State wildlife officials say the gallbladder was removed. Photo: BEAR League

The appalling impact of TCM on endangered species goes well beyond bears though. It affects the world’s most precious and protected animals, such as Bengal tigers, American bears and African rhinos. A worldwide interest in alternative medicine and the ease of international commerce now put dozens of species worldwide at risk. And while most of traditional Chinese medicines rely on herbs, the demand for products made at the expense of threatened animals continues to grow. In reality, many of the current claims associated with the medicinal value of animal products are spurious; but reality hasn’t stopped the rising demand for these illegal substances, and the profits to be made by poachers and smugglers rise.2

While the use of some animal products was perhaps justifiable in the past  — when there were no alternatives available, the extent of demand was limited, and the particular species were plentiful in their natural habitat — it is no longer sustainable, or justifiable, given our modern, globalized, and technically-advanced world. Today, with other approved therapeutic alternatives available, there is little justification for the use of endangered species such as the black bear.3

The belief advanced by the Counterculture of the 1960s and the New Age movement — that “natural” curatives are better than their synthetic equivalents — contributes enormously to TCM’s popularity in North America today. These groups originally objected to the growing over-consumption and over-reliance on synthetically-produced medicines, over natural alternatives. And while these concerns should be considered serious, the apologists of TCM and other types of traditional medicines fail to recognize that at present, their massive demand for “natural” products has made crime against animals commonplace. TCM has behind it a powerful, moneyed group of consumers whose “needs” now drive a whole black market economy — one that supports poachers, bear bile farmers, and all types of heinous torture.

As I wrote his article, I was overwhelmed with rage, and repulsed not only by the horrific images of the animal holocaust in Asia, but also by the enormous hypocrisy of the proponents of TCM, who effectively claim that pus-infested bear bile, and the by-products of animals tortured, disfigured, and dismembered in the name of thenatural” are better, safer, and “gentler” than synthetic pharmaceuticals.

With many thanks to Sara Pegarella, JD, and Kristin Koster, PhD, for their valuable comments.

The above mentioned animal rights advocacy groups (Animals Asia, Asia Wild Life, etc.) were not interviewed for this piece and any information attributable to them was taken from their websites. I encourage you to visit these sites to become more informed and involved.

REFERENCES

  1. Bensky D, Gamble A, Kaptchuck T. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Revised Edition. Eastland Press. 1986. Return to text
  2. Ellis R. Tiger Bone & Rhino Horn: The Destruction of Wildlife for Traditional Chinese Medicine. Island Press; 1 edition. 2005. Return to text
  3. Still J. Use of animal products in traditional Chinese medicine: environmental impact and health hazards. Complement Ther Med. 2003 Jun;11(2):118-22. Return to text

Posted in: Medical Ethics, Politics and Regulation, Science and Medicine

Leave a Comment (46) ↓

46 thoughts on “Asian Bear Bile Remedies: Traditional Medicine or Barbarism?

  1. ZenMonkey says:

    Those pictures are atrocious. I had no idea bears were continuously milked for bile; I thought they were at least killed before that kind of torture. I can only hope that IPO brings more attention to the problem and effects some kind of change.

  2. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ ZenMonkey, indeed, this is atrocious. There is going to be an awareness event and a fundraiser in September in NYC. I will post some info about it later.

  3. Nikola says:

    Thanks, excellent stuff. Hooray for natural medicine!! … No?
    Though, I would have liked a bit more said about the difference between the claimed and actual potential benefits of Ursodiol/bear bile use, which is not something I think most people (nor I) would be immediately familiar with.
    But the contrast with synthetic production was nice… It’s really nice to know that because of the naturalistic fallacy thousands and thousands of bears are tortured and maimed – all for a tiny percentage of the global demand for UDCA.

  4. norrisL says:

    We use synthetic UDCA in our veterinary surgery. I very much doubt that the “natural” product is remotely as safe or effective as its synthetic and ethically produced counterpart.
    My friend Gary Wilson, probably Australia’s leading veterinary dentist, was asked to go into China to provide dental treatment to bears rescued from the bile bear “industry”. He agreed but said that he would not enter China until he knew that the dental equipment required had arrived at its destination. Each time the equipment crossed a border within China, a bit more equipment disappeared until there was nothing left to arrive at its intended destination.
    We in Australia have been campaigning against the slaughter of whales by the Japanese for many years, but the bile bear business also deserves a huge amount of international attention.
    I’m sorry if I offend anyone’s sensibilities, but throughout sections of Asia there is very little awareness or care for animal welfare. Animals are just a commodity. I know that this does not apply to all Asians and also that animal cruelty is not confined to Asia, but seriously, people involved in kling whales and dolphins, cutting the skulls off monkeys so that they can eat the brain and collecting bear bile need a reality check and to drag themselves out of the 16th century and into the 21st.

  5. windriven says:

    I spent a couple of years living in China. Even erudite and worldly Chinese commonly use traditional products including bear bile, tiger penis and rhinoceros powder. That is, until they are actually ill, at which time they scurry to the local hospital (where one goes in China to see a physician).

    Many of these practices are little more than old rituals; touchstones of one’s culture. But that does not make them any easier to eradicate.

    Chinese culture is wildly different from western culture and Chinese ethics are a part of that different culture. In my experience, I would not expect to find many Chinese disturbed by these photographs or the facts surrounding the ‘harvesting’ of bear bile.

  6. US says:

    Wow, this is really sad. I am not opposed to the use of animals in medicine, per se, such as the use of porcine or bovine valves, and I do certainly eat meat, but this causes such pain to the animals!

    It’s inexcusable, and particularly when there is a synthetic alternative that may be just as effective, I would almost say that it is borderline evil. The fact that the product obtained is used as any kind of medicine doesn’t actually matter. It’s the animal cruelty that is the terrible part.

  7. Josie says:

    “As I wrote his article, I was overwhelmed with rage, and repulsed ”

    You aren’t the only one :(

    I have read about this before. To see that it has penetrated to my own backyard (i live in san diego) disgusts me.

    I am no vegetarian and I in fact use animals for my research. However their welfare is at the top of my priority list.

    I feel a great deal of anger towards those people who selfishly take from animals without a thought as to the health and well being of the source.

  8. daedalus2u says:

    Why would anyone expect any CAM operation to be run ethically or humanely? CAM providers don’t treat their human customers ethically or humanely, why would anyone expect them to treat animals ethically or humanely?

    The first rule of CAM is “never criticize what another CAM practitioner does”. I don’t think there is a second rule.

    When your only justification for doing something is magical thinking, you can justify anything via still more magical thinking. I expect the bear bile suppliers to state that bile collected from bears in this way is somehow better. The suffering of the bears somehow makes the bile stronger and more therapeutic.

    For some people, it is probably true. Some people will get a better placebo effect if they know the creature that provided the bile was made to suffer terribly. Catering to such people will only increase suffering in the world and make humans more willing to tolerate the suffering of others.

  9. Dpeabody says:

    Tradition, stupidity on purpose.

  10. Harriet Hall says:

    While I am concerned for bears, I am more concerned by the prescientific mindset of people who ingest bear bile on the basis of superstition rather than on any evidence that it will help them in any way.

  11. Robin says:

    @ Windriven, it is an almost unfathomable cultural difference.

    I first learned about Animals Asia when a family friend worked for them a decade ago (sadly, the demand for bear bile has only risen.) While the photos of the bears, as well as those of dogs and cats sold and slaughtered in live animal markets disturbed me to the core, our friend pointed out that welfarist attitudes toward animals in the West are historically recent, within the last two centuries or so, and mostly limited to companion animals. She shared horrible accounts of working dogs used in English factories during the industrial revolution, and the infamous “brown dog affair” (very good write up of that on wikipedia) which highlighted the early debate about whether or not animals should be given welfare considerations in science and medical experiments.

    The Chinese are culturally diverse, and there have been movements toward animal welfare in China and other parts of Asia that are encouraging. It may take decades but I am hopeful that Animals Asia and other groups can help the bears. After all, animal welfare only took a few generations to catch on in the West (philosophically at least.)

  12. Epinephrine says:

    Yet another example of why being a “shruggie” is unacceptable.

    Reminds me of the cectic comic.

  13. Jen93 says:

    Nikola, my 2 year-old son takes synthetic Ursodiol. He has biliary atresia. His team at CHOP prescribed it after he had surgery (a Kasai portoenterostomy) at 10 weeks of age . His hepatologist told us that synthetic Ursodiol may enhance biliary drainage after the surgery – and that he’ll probably be on it for the rest of his life.

  14. Josie says:

    BTW, from my Sigma catalog, the retail price of of Ursodeoxycholic acid is $422.50 for 25g..or about $17k for a kilo…..as opposed to the $33k quoted early in the entry.

    That is for pure active ingredient without all the extra ‘stuff’ found in the direct-from-animal product, without paying for bear maintenance, or paying poachers, bribing inspectors or for any other means of skirting the laws protecting the bears.

    I am reminded in a macabre way of Harriet’s entry on comparing street drugs to ‘herbal medicines’ and how you don’t know what all is in the street drugs or the circumstances surrounding their manufacture.

  15. Ben Kavoussi – Good work. I think one of the best ways to stop this kind of cruelty and reckless regard for endangerment to a species is to work on decreasing demand through public awareness of the pain caused.

  16. I’m just curious, perhaps I missed it in the article, but am I correct in understanding that there is no proven medical purpose for Ursodiol (from bears or synthetic)?

    For instance, I know animals used to be used in the manufacture of thyroid hormone to treat hypothyroidism, before the synthetic was available. This is not the case with ursodiol, correct?

  17. windriven says:

    @Robin

    I certainly share your hope that Animals Asia and other groups make rapid headway but I fear change will be slow. The Chinese of my acquaintance tend to be very open to western culture but also very slow to relinquish their own – a not altogether bad thing.

    It is strange. Some Chinese are very attached to their pets (though pets are less common in China than in the US) but are unmoved by the plight of other animals – even of the same species.

  18. Ben Kavoussi says:

    To All,

    Can a physician please write a comment about the medical uses of Ursodiol?

    Thank you.

  19. Harriet Hall says:

    I just did a little Googling (PubMed, Mayo clinic and drug websites) and as far as I can tell, ursodiol is only useful for a limited spectrum of liver and gall bladder conditions.

  20. Joe says:

    I hate to refer to Wiki; but their article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ursodiol says ursodiol is not present in bile. Rather, it is produced in the gut by bacteria metabolizing bile. I have recently packed-up my library in anticipation of moving- so I don’t have other references at hand.

    In addition, one must worry about the dose. Usually, when really expensive ingredients are used in traditional medicines they are only present in trace amounts, if at all. Many years ago I watched a PBS program on tiger poaching and they bought many “tiger” preps at TCM stores in the USA and analyzed them- none contained anything they could associate with tiger.

    This does not mitigate against the animal suffering you have documented, or the real poaching that goes on. I didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to watch the videos or closely examine the photos. My point is that I doubt there is really any active ingredient in those products that needs to be replaced (unless someone has a problem that can be treated medically, rather than with bogus TCM).

  21. weing says:

    Ursodiol has been used to prevent gallstones and to dissolve small gallstones. I have used it in the past in patients who did not want surgery. They changed their minds when they found out it had to be continued after stone dissolution. I know some of my colleagues use it when placing patients on very low calorie diets to prevent gallstones. It may have a role after bariatric surgery also for the same reason.

  22. Danio says:

    It’s also been looked at as a treatment for (currently completely untreatable) Retinitis Pigmentosa, for example:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21054389

    No clinical trials yet, though, afaik.

  23. Thanks folks, It good to know in case I happen to mention the sad story of Bear Bile farms. Now I know not to make the mistake of saying that Ursodiol itself is useless, only that there is absolutely no need for bears to suffer, due to the availability of safer, higher quality synthetic Ursodiol.

  24. windriven says:

    @Michele

    “Now I know not to make the mistake of saying that Ursodiol itself is useless, only that there is absolutely no need for bears to suffer, due to the availability of safer, higher quality synthetic Ursodiol.”

    But synthetic ursodiol doesn’t have bear spirit. The bear must suffer so that we can live.

    I am going to go way, way, way out of my way not to compare and contrast the above paragraph with a certain common religious belief.

  25. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    Bear bile farming has been illegal in Vietnam for six years now, but it is still flourishing.

    see:

    http://wildlifenews.co.uk/2011/vietnam-cracks-down-on-bear-bile-tourism/

    This bear bile farming is a prime example of the harm that superstition can do.

  26. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ windriven

    I agree with you. TCM is based on superstition, astrology and geomancy, and most of its claims are pure hogwash.

    The sad part is that the proponent of TCM in the US have used the cultural-relativism argument to promote quackery and New Age crackpottery in the name of traditional and natural medicine.

    As a result, thousand of animals suffer and the wild life is destroyed.

  27. weing says:

    Where is PETA when you need them?

  28. windriven says:

    @weing

    “Where is PETA when you need them?”

    Showering naked in Hollywood. I’ll bet the Chinese bears are really impressed.

    http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2011/03/22/peta-models-shower-nude-in-hollywood-to-protest-meat/

  29. LMA says:

    While this is a very important article (and I mean that; animal welfare is as important as human welfare, and in those instances where sentient creatures must be used for critical medical research, they should be treated with the same care, dignity and respect a human trials subject would receive), I was horrified by the photos included — and I mean horrified in a horrible way. I could only read the related article by quickly, quickly scrolling the page so that the pictures were not visible. Please consider masking them with a warning or include them in a hidden link so that others with sensitive hearts aren’t inclined to simply ignore the article and miss the message.

  30. Scott says:

    Barbarism. No question about it. And “cultural differences” don’t excuse such barbarism any more than they excused Nazism. (Not trying for a Godwin here; it’s just the single best example of how some standards must be universally enforced without regard for “culture.”)

  31. bearsnsquirrels says:

    Yes, the photos are horrifying, but they are very real and the whole World should be forced to look at them. We hide our heads in the sand and pretend we are civilized. I am the director of the BEAR League in Lake Tahoe and have been called countless times by motorists or hikers who come upon a dead black bear with paws, head and gall bladder removed. These folks’ nightmares never end therefore they go forth and do all in their power to change things for the better. The only solace I find is the fact that only 100 years ago black people (slaves) were considered less than human and were believed to be souless and considered unable to feel pain. Now, a black man is our President. The day must come when we realize animals are not on this Earth for us to exploit, torture, profit from, or entertain ourselves with. If we can’t get there, we humans have no hope for a future.

  32. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Scott

    you are absolutely right: humanity and morality are universal values, and heinous crimes towards animals are never justifiable, even if they are part of a cultural practice.

  33. rmgw says:

    Many thanks for publicising this wretched business – I hope it leads to more pressure to put a stop to it.

    As you so truly say: “While the use of some animal products was perhaps justifiable in the past — when there were no alternatives available, the extent of demand was limited, and the particular species were plentiful in their natural habitat — it is no longer sustainable, or justifiable, given our modern, globalized, and technically-advanced world.”

    Perhaps eventually everyone will realise that all human exploitation of animals is cruel, immoral and unjustified: meanwhile, unfortunately, the terrible images of bear bile farming, chicken debeaking, slaughter, foie gras productions, tail dockings, castrations, sow crating, bullfighting and all the other horrors, gustatory, medicinal and cultural need to be seen to find hope of relief.

  34. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ rmgw

    Thank you for your comments. The most absurd of all these animal cruelties is bullfighting: it is believed to come from the tauroctony ritual in Mithraism.

    the tauroctony symbolized the end of the Age of Taurus and the beginning of the Age of Aries the Ram (2200 BC). This is due to an astrological event called the “precession of the equinoxes.”

    “Wretched business” is the right term.

  35. Kultakutri says:

    Now that I’ve surpressed my urge to vomit, I’m joining LMA’s plea: please, make the pics into links or something. I’m one of the intestinally weaker.

    I’m aware that people are exploiting animals and I don’t need to look at horrifying pics or footage. I’m trying my best to get organic food etc when circumstances, and let’s admit it, financial possibilities permit it. My personal philosophy, which I’m trying to spread, is that since humans have domesticated certain species, now they’re responsible for them, and since humans have immense power over their surroundings, they should use it very wisely. Getting TCM ingredients from endangered species is neither responsible nor wise so it’s no way for me… or, if I permit myself a snark, for anyone else equipped with a piece of brain.

  36. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Kultakutri and LMA

    I am terribly sorry for the rawness, the brutality but the authenticity of these image.

    But as bearsnsquirrels, the director of the BEAR League in Lake Tahoe, CA, writes, refusing to face the reality of the harm we inflict on animals amount to hiding “our heads in the sand.”

    Besides, I did not take these pictures or videos, or discover them in some hidden place; they were already posted on the websites of animal rights advocacy groups, or on YouTube. They are a click away if one chooses to look at the reality of Chinese medicine.

    Just like activists that work towards bringing attention to all the human holocaust(s) in our grim history, so it does not happen again, I think it is only by showing the raw and brutal nature of animal holocaust in Asia that we can bring attention to this issue; that we stop the poachers, bear bile farmers, and the heinous torture of animals in the name of “natural” and “holistic” medicine.

  37. Nikola says:

    Thanks all, for clarifying actual uses of Ursodiol.

  38. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    Ben Kavoussi wrote

    the tauroctony symbolized the end of the Age of Taurus and the beginning of the Age of Aries the Ram (2200 BC). This is due to an astrological event called the “precession of the equinoxes.”

    Ben, I can’t believe this was seriously meant.

    1. Precession of the equinoxes is the phenomenon (not an event) that the point where the sun crosses the celestial equator (around March and September 21) shifts with respect to the stars. The shift is truly minute, namely one degree in 72 years. It is not an astrological phenomenon, but an astronomical phenomenon. It is said to have been first discovered in around 250 BC, or maybe about 50 years later.

    2. Western astrology is a Babylonian invention, dating back to at most the seventh century BC, when the Babylonians started to collect omens of various kinds, also astral omens. The oldest known horoscope dates from 410 BC. The zodiacal names now in use probably date also from that time. The zodiac was originally subdivided in 18 parts, later 15, and still later the 12 parts still in use. Originally the Babylonians used these zodiacal subdivisions to register the position of the moon. They were not very interested in the location of the vernal equinox. The zodiacal sign Ram wasn’t called like that in the Babylonian time. It was ‘Hired Laborer’ because it corresponded to the time farmers had to hire laborers to work the land. Because the name was abbreviated, it gradually was confused with the similarly written Ram. Virgin was originally a woman with an ear of grain corresponded to harvest time. So ‘our’ zodiacal signs originate not in anything remotely religious but in 7-5th century BC concepts related to the seasons.

    3. The conjecture that precession ot the equinoxes was known 2200 BC and that there were religious concepts related to it such as the Age of X conflicts with what is known about history. It must have been invented around the time that the Age of Aquarius was invented (which is supposed to begin somwhere between 1781 and 2740, depending on which author provides the definition).
    You can only seriously consider concepts like ‘The Age of X’ when the constellations of the zodiac have some religious or higher meaning of their own (not just seasoin indicators) AND if one is aware of the phenomenon of precession of the equinoxes, which presupposes painstaking record keeping for centuries.

  39. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Jan Willem Nienhuys

    Thank you for your comments. I meant, in the eyes of the practitioners of Mithraism, this was astrological event, which is in reality is due to astronomical phenomenon, as you mention.

  40. Animals Asia US says:

    While Animals Asia appreciates the author’s efforts to enlighten readers to the horrors of the bear bile industry, we feel that a crucial part of the picture is missing in this post.

    After 11 years of working on the ground in China, rescuing bears from farms, lobbying government officials and educating the public about the perils of the bile industry, we can say that, without a doubt, TCM practitioners in Asia have been some of the greatest supporters of our efforts. Likewise, TCM practitioners and colleges in the US, Europe and Australia are leading the call for the end of the use of bear bile (and other products sourced from animals) in traditional medicine.

    Animals Asia has many strong partnerships within the TCM community and we are thankful for the wisdom and perspective that those partnerships provide. We are also thankful to the tens of thousands of citizens throughout China who are in support of efforts to end the use of bear bile.

    Finally, we urge citizens here in the US to speak out against bear bile as well. An easy way to do so is by supporting AB6291, a bill recently introduced in New York aimed at making the sale of bear bile and gallbaldder illegal in that state.

  41. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    eyes of the practitioners of Mithraism

    Wikipedia mentions the theory of D. Ulansey, in The origins of the Mithraic mysteries to this effect. Certainly after Hipparcos the precession of the equinoxes was known, and as Mithraism flourished in the 1st-4th century AD is just might have been possible that the worshippers themselves had such thoughts. But I don’t know whether there is any primary source from the practitioners themselves that suggests this. I doubt it.

  42. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Jan Willem Nienhuys

    Thank you. I have actually read Ulansey’s book. It appears that the procession was actually attributed to Perseus, hence his cult. The arguments are convincing, but since I have no other knowledge about the subject. I doubt there is any type of remaining sources from the practitioners.

  43. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ Animals Asia US

    Thank you for your comments. I hope the NY bill passes.

    I applaud the TCM practitioners who oppose the use of bear products.

  44. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ US

    It’s inexcusable, and particularly when there is a synthetic alternative that may be just as effective, I would almost say that it is borderline evil.

    Indeed, it is evil. And when I sent the link to this article via email to the Vice President of one of the acupuncture and TCM associations in the US, his response was:

    “…the ugly truth was never hidden from any of us. It is a part of this medicine, just like barbaric acts are a part of any and all medical systems.”

    The TCM community has therefore known about this, but has not said or done anything, perhaps by fear of bad publicity.

    Shame on those who knew about this, but–for one reason or another–have chosen to remain silent.

  45. daedalus2u says:

    Those bear bile farms can’t be operating under GMP standards (Good Manufacturing Practices). How do ingredients produced under non-GMP standards get to be sold in the US?

    I would think that the FDA has the authority to seize and destroy all “supplements” for human consumption or use that contain bear bile.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_manufacturing_practice

    GMP applies to all dietary supplements.

  46. Ben Kavoussi says:

    @ daedalus2u

    You are right, these substances are–and should be illegal.

    However, just like illegal drugs are being sold in the streets in the US, and law enforcement just does not have enough manpower and resources to arrest and prosecute every little dope dealer, the FDA and other agencies do not enough resources to seize bear bile products in TCM shops across the US, destroy the supplements, and prosecute the the vendors.

    How, even if the raw bile is seized, it requires an expensive molecular test to distinguish it from cow bile, which is also sold in TCM shops.

    This is complex problem that involves both wrongdoing, and a lack of funding for law enforcement.

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