Mar. 23, 2023
62 Organizations appeal to ban bear bile harve

Tencent Green, Southern Weekend and 62 animal protection organizations appeal to ban bear bile harvesting.

An interview with Zhang Xiaohai, the Director of the Animals Asia Foundation in China.
- The elimination of bear farming cannot be decided upon by one bureau, it requires assistance from the central government.
- While the West has made its opposition to bear farming clear, it is up to the Chinese people to take action and ban the practice.
- Any company that wants to expand their stake in the bear bile market will be committing corporate suicide.
Tencent Green asks and Zhang Xiaohai answers
Green: You said that we stamp out bear farming one step at a time, but how do we achieve this goal?
Zhang Xiaohai
There is now strong public opposition to bear farming. Following [public opinion] we think that he government should create a plan to phase out the practice. Only after the decision has been made to stop bear farming can government agencies and animal protection organizations come together to discuss how bear farming can be stopped.
After creating a policy, we could then begin the implementation in just a few simple steps. First, the farms should not be allowed to increase the amount of bear bile production, they should not be allowed to breed the bears, and they should stop the exchange of bears between farms. 
Second, the approval and sale of products containing bear bile must be stopped. Customs should review [potential] items more carefully. This is especially true in the North of China as bear bile is popular in Korea.
At the same time, we want to ensure that the poor bears never lose government protection once the decision to phase out bear farming has been made. As a member of an animal protection organization, I hope that our government can oversee this process and make sure that the bears are not killed by the farms to sell as [spare parts] after bear farming has been eliminated.
Green: You said that you hope the government can make a fast and meaningful decision, which department will be responsible?
Zhang Xiaohai: The bear farming industry is not managed by just one department. Permits for bear domestication and breeding are issued by the forestry department, while other permits are also issued by the Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Food and Drug Agency. Once a farm has these permits it can legally register. With this current structure, the elimination of bear farming cannot be decided by just one department; an office like the State Council must handle it.
The farms are mostly located in Jinlin as South Korea has a high demand for bear bile.
Green: There are already 20 provinces that do not have bear farms, and last year, Shandong closed their last one. Why do some provinces take the initiative to close the bear farms, while others do not?
Zhang Xiaohai: Actually it has historic links. In the past bear farms were mostly distributed in the northeast, southwest and a small part of the southeast. Why? It is well known that Koreans value bear bile, and as the northeast borders Korea, Yanji in Jinlin province has a large number of farms.
However, some places like Xinjiang and Beijing have never had a market for bear bile. 
The harvesting of bear bile from a live bear is very controversial. The bile industry puts the area where it is based at a serious disadvantage, especially when applying to host the Olympic Games. Fortunately, the forestry department in Beijing has always been against the industry.
Green: What is the international opinion of bear bile and its status there? Also, as bear bile is legal in China does it harm our standing abroad?
Zhang Xiaohai: First of all, Western countries have never had a bear farming industry and they do not practice Chinese medicine. However, they are aware that there are bear farms in China and they are highly opposed to them. Animals Asia Foundation, which is registered in Hong Kong, was established by a British woman and represents a Western point of view.
However, while the West strongly opposes the bear farming and bear bile industries, only the Chinese can resolve the problem. What we emphasise is that this is a problem we need to solve on our own.
We understand our history, but we should also pay attention to Vietnam’s situation. Vietnam used to have a bear bile industry, but in 1992 they passed legislation declaring bear bile farming illegal.
It should also be noted that the medicinal properties of bear bile have been replicated by certain herbs and synthetic pharmaceuticals.
Green: if raising bears is entirely for medical use of beargall, it seems no longer necessary to raise bears now since bear gall can be replaced by Chinese herbal medicine and artificial bear gall.
If bears were farmed only to harvest their gall bladder bile, it would appear that they are now no longer needed as we can substitute herbs and synthetic pharmaceuticals for bile.
Zhang Xiaohai: This is a complex issue as the public is divided in their opinion of TCM. However, we first need to know that bear bile does not cure diseases, it soothes ailments. Furthermore, there are many herbs that treat the same ailments as the bile, which means that the bile can be completely replaced with the herbs. 
Meanwhile, China has a pharmaceutical institute that has spent the last 30 years researching artificial bear bile. According to their findings, it is not possible to differentiate between artificial and natural bear bile. This proves that the bile can be substituted with herbs or synthetics.
Green: Is it correct to say that China only has one bear rescue center in Sichuan?
Xiaohai Zhang: Yes, Sichuan Xindu LongQiao is the only one.
Green: You just mentioned that you didn't want the bear trading market to be closed en masse overnight because your ability to rescue bears is limited. Can you explain this in more detail?
Zhang Xiaohai: Our rescue center does not have the capacity to take all of the bears. Our center was built with permission from the government. This agreement allowed us to save 500 black bears in 2000, but up until now we have only saved 277 bears, 100 of which have died. Now we only have 170 bears and we’ve been open for 10 years.
Our rescue center is not equipped to house all of China’s 10,000 farmed black bears. Even if it could, the Animals Asia Foundation can’t afford to care for all of these bears. We need a unified arrangement between the government and society in order to care for them.
If we don’t take action the bear population will continue to rise. In 2006 there were 7,000 bears in China’s farming industry, and this year a conservative estimate puts it at more than 10,000. In two years there will probably be 20,000 bears. If it is allowed to continue the cost will become larger and the problem will become bigger.
Green: How much does it cost to support a black bear for one year in your rescue center?
Zhang Xiaohai: Our rescue center provides the bears with a high standard of living including food, environment, and precision care and treatment for ill bears. The average cost to care for each bear is several thousands of yuan a month.
We have also discussed this question. If bear farming is eliminated in the future then bear farms would need to be transformed into rescue centers in which the bear has its basic needs looked after. This may lower costs but if we use the rescue center’s standards the costs will be high.
Shouldn’t people be concerned about animal abuse?
Green: Some people think that if we cannot solve the human social welfare problem, why should we care about animal welfare? How do we respond to these views?
Zhang Xiaohai: These two things are not contradictory. It does not mean that to care about animals’ welfare is to ignore the welfare of the people. From the beginning the Animals Asia Foundation has paid compensation for the rescued bears.
Green: Do you pay compensation to the people who raise the farmed bears?
Zhang Xiaohai: Yes, all of the people who raise the bears are given compensation. In fact, we care greatly for the people.
Furthermore, the promotion of animal welfare and anti-cruelty is helpful for human society too. In the last few decades the number of serious animal welfare issues in China has been on the rise.
 I have often said that the people who make fake medicines and fake milk powder have hard hearts. They do such cruel things to their fellow people. Animal protection doesn’t only protect animals, it also improves people’s ethical standards.
Even without the Animals Asia Foundation’s involvement the bear farming industry is going to perish.
Green: What is your opinion about the Guizhentang Pharmaceutical Corporation’s intention to go public?
Zhang Xiaohai: This issue has been entirely driven by public opinion from beginning to end. It started before Spring Festival, and we did not release a statement until February 14th. Many people are now calling for a boycott. Our issue concerns Guizhentang’s acquiring live bear bile, not with them as a company. Our goal is to ban the farming of bears. We are unwilling to see a company go public when they are farming bears because it would allow for the continued development of this industry.  
Green: Are there any companies that farm bears for bile that have gone public before Guizhentang?
Zhang Xiaohai: Yes, Shanghai Kai Bao. We didn't know that it was listed at that time. It wasn’t until later that we knew that it was a bear farming enterprise and that it sold bear bile. We contacted them after we found out. In September of last year I visited the company and spoke with them. I hope they change from using live bear bile to artificial bear bile to produce their medicine.
Green: Have you had a response from them?
Zhang Xiaohai: No, they haven’t responded. But I did notice that they sold one of their bear farms this year. I see this as a well-intentioned first step to stopping their use of bear bile. Bear bile has given them too much negative public attention.
Green: Do you think there is any possibility of the bear bile industry developing further?
Zhang Xiaohai: A few years ago I said the bear farming industry was doomed even without the Animals Asia Foundation.
As society continues to develop more people begin to boycott against cruel practices. This will ensure the bile market’s reduction. If a company decides to sell bear bile and then wants to go public, it will dig its own grave. The company will attract negative publicity and accusations. This will negatively impact their business.
Post script: 
Save the black bear and eliminate the bear bile industry!
Tencent Green and Southern Weekend call on our network of supporters to call for an end to the bear farming and bile industries and their products. There are 11 provinces, 97 bear farms, and a suspected 92 unapproved products that contain bear bile.
Join us in taking action against bear farms and encouraging relevant authorities to re-examine the industry’s existence.
Translator: Liang Tingting, Ding Xiaoxin
Proof reader: Kirsten Allen/ Karen Marshall