With bear bile used for medical purposes, what suffering is being inflicted on the bears and what alternative solutions are available?
What is bear bile farming?
It's a process that puts bears in captivity, using bile from their bodies to use for medicine. The system takes the bile from the bears' gallbladders, but in crude and painful fashion.
Having begun in the 1980s, bear farming is most common in China, where it's estimated that more than 10,000 bears are kept in bile farms.
Why does bear bile farming exist?
A key aspect of bear bile is ursodeoxycholic acid which is said to be an effective combatant of illnesses such as liver disease. But it can also be used to treat a number of other illnesses and ailments such as acne, sore throats, epilepsy, colds, conjunctivitis, haemorrhoids and even cancer.
The bile is used in a number of prescribed medical formats such as powders, pills and tonics. But some pathology reports claim that the bile used in these is contaminated with elements such as faeces, urine, bacteria, pus, blood and even cancer cells from bears.
Aren't there any alternatives to bear bile in medical research?
Yes, and it's a common element of the work done by anti-bear bile farming groups, who push the fact that there are many synthetic or herbal alternative solutions available. These are both affordable and effective.
A 2015 report commented on Kaibao Pharmaceuticals, which announced plans to develop a synthetic alternative to bear bile. The organisation proved its commitment to the cause by investing 12m yuan (equivalent of £1.3m) into developing this alternative, and in addition, financial contributions were made by both the Chinese and regional governments.
How do the bears suffer?
The bears are kept in inhumane conditions, 'living' in small, cramped and dirty cages. Because of the paucity of the cage sizes, the bears can hardly move. They hardly get anything to eat or drink, and it's said that some bears have to endure these kinds of living conditions for up to 20 years.
The methods used in extracting the bile cause the bears agony, and furthermore, it's said that these procedures are very rarely performed by people who have the relevant veterinary qualifications – if at all.
A number of methods are used, with the most 'humane' being a free-drip process that creates a permanent open passage from the bear's gallbladder through their abdomen. But the process is crudely and painfully performed, with no regard for the bears, who suffer pain and infections. Other methods and devices used include medicinal pumps, rusty catheters and metal jackets with neck spikes.
Apart from the pain suffered, bears can develop infections, diseases, tumours, self-inflicted wounds, and even broken teeth from trying to bite themselves free from the cages. Furthermore, the living conditions and painful processes cause the bears psychological damage as well.
What is being done to combat bear bile farming?
A number of organisations are working hard to both raise awareness of bear bile farming and also to prevent this practice.
The World Animal Protection organisation, for example, raises awareness of the various herbal and synthetic alternatives to bear bile medicines, and has teamed with a number of partners (such as governments, global bodies and influential individuals) to prevent the practice of bear bile farming. As well as this, World Animal Protection is seeking out laws and policies to prevent farming, and also to provide captive bears with better condition environments and greater freedom to move.
Animals Asia is another well-known organisation dedicated to the cause of preventing bear bile farming. One of its most successful accomplishments occurred in July 2017, when it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Vietnamese government to establish a joint plan that will eradicate bear bile farming for good.
It's said that there were 1000 bear bile farms in Vietnam, so the Memorandum stands as a major achievement, especially after 18 years of collaboration with the Vietnamese government to successfully accomplish this plan.