The revelation comes after the Chinese government has outlined steps to permanently ban the trade and consumption of live wild animals for food within the world’s most populous country. The traditional remedy of using bear bile to treat COVID-19 appeared on a list of Chinese Medicine solutions for the most severe symptoms of coronavirus. The remedy is called Tan Re Qing.
The list was published on March 4 by China’s National Health Commission, the government body responsible for national health policy.
Traditional medicines containing threatened wildlife parts such as pangolin scales, leopard bones, saiga horn and the bile of captive-bred bears are still legal in China.
According to charity Animals Asia, the cages were the bears are incarcerated in China are sometimes so small that they are unable to turn around or stand on all fours.
Some are put into cages as cubs and never leave them.
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They may grow too large to fit through the cage door or remain stunted.
Animals Asia state: “Bears may be kept caged like this for up to 30 years.
“This has a terrible effect on the physical and mental wellbeing.”
The bear’s bile is harvested through invasive surgery, which causes “severe suffering, pain and infection.”
Aron White, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Wildlife Campaigner and China Specialist, said: “Restricting the eating of wildlife while promoting medicines containing wildlife parts exemplifies the mixed messages being sent by Chinese authorities on wildlife trade.
“Aside from the irony of promoting a wildlife product for treatment of a disease which the scientific community has overwhelmingly concluded originated in wildlife, the continued promotion of the use of threatened wildlife in medicine is hugely irresponsible in an era of unprecedented biodiversity loss, including illegal and unsustainable trade.”
According to Mr White, his organisation learned first about the Chinese government’s recommendations to treat COVID-19 via social media posts from illegal traders.
He said: “We were witnessing how this government recommendation was being coopted by the traffickers to advertise their illegal products as a treatment.”
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Illegal bile from wild bears is produced in China, he says, and is also imported from wild and captive bears in Laos, Vietnam, and North Korea.
The illegal trade persists even though Asiatic black bears, one of the species most commonly farmed for their bile, are protected from international commercial trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which regulates cross-border trade of wildlife and wildlife products.
The bile is painfully tapped from the gallbladder of caged bears, who must undergow a slow painful death during the process to extract all of the bile.
The bile is secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, bile from various species of bears, including Asiatic black bears and brown bears, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since at least the eighth century.
It contains high levels of ursodeoxycholic acid, also known as ursodiol, which is clinically proven to help dissolve gallstones and treat liver disease.
But, ursodeoxycholic acid has been available as a synthetic drug worldwide for decades.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners typically use the Tan Re Qing remedy to treat bronchitis.
Clifford Steer, a professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who has studied the subject, told National Geographic that there is no evidence that bear bile is an effective treatment for coronavirus.
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