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Unlicensed bear farms facing clampdown
By Liang Chao (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-06-15 05:49

Bear bile has been used by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, and it still a prized commodity.

But when illegal farms keep the animals in poor conditions and extract their bile using painful methods, a forestry official said yesterday, China will clamp down.

Cao Qingyao, spokesman for the State Forestry Administration, made it clear at a press conference in Beijing that the agency stopped granting new licences for bear farms established for bile extraction in 1993.

"Since then, we have prohibited the capturing of wild bears for their bile, which is traditionally believed to have healing power," he said.

There are still more than 200 legal farms in China, holding around 7,000 bears, according to official figures released in 1999.

"There are a few illegal bear farms despite years of attempts by authorities to stem the practice."

Bear bile is highly prized as a cure for a range of complaints such as colon cancer, fever, conjunctivitis and hepatitis C.

Today, many TCM practitioners say it is unnecessary and easily replaced by over 50 effective herbs, as well as a synthetic form of the bile - ursodeoxycholic acid.

Officially licensed and regulated bear farms were set up across China from 1984. Each bear is allowed to be kept, if properly cared for, for about five years. The bile it "milked" during that period is equivalent to the amount of powdered bile gained by killing 220 wild bears, Cao said.

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