In August Animals Asia celebrated 15 years of working to end cruelty toward animals in Asia. On the very day of the anniversary, at a ceremony in Chengdu, China, 150 Chinese drugstores announced that they would no longer sell bear bile products. The event was organized by Animals Asia China Director Toby Zhang as part of the organization's "Healing without Harm" campaign.
More than 10,000 bears -- mainly moon bears, but also brown bears -- are kept on bile farms in China, and around 2,400 moon bears (and some sun bears) in Vietnam. The bears are milked regularly for their bile, which is used in traditional medicine. Bile is extracted using various, intrusive techniques, all of which cause massive trauma and infection to the bears. Most farmed bears are kept in tiny cages. In China, the cages are sometimes so small that the bears are unable to turn around or stand on all fours. The bile is used in traditional medicine despite the availability of many herbal and synthetic alternatives.
Launched to focus predominantly on the plight of bears, dogs, and cats, Animals Asia is as true to its promise today as it was 15 years ago -- to work until the very last bear bile farm has closed, until bears can wake with the sun on their backs and without fear in their hearts, and when dogs and cats can be celebrated as our friends, not food.
The growth and development of the animal welfare movement in China since that special day has been explosive, and Animals Asia is at the forefront of significant progress in both China and Vietnam. Bear bile farming is now a major issue among the public and media in both countries, and while it is illegal in Vietnam, it is also looked upon with contempt from a massively growing number of the Chinese population.
Having relentlessly exposed bear bile farming cruelty in China for all of these years, we are seeing a massive upsurge against the industry today. Last year there was an unprecedented peak of outrage from the Chinese media and public, with the issue dominating news headlines for weeks. As the most prominent group working to end bear bile farming, Animals Asia was featured in over 8,300 Chinese-language press articles in February alone.
It's not easy sometimes for the West to gauge the huge Chinese opposition to bear bile use but it is immense. We are talking millions of people right here, right now championing the bears. In terms of public support this is not a divisive issue, the Chinese people have made their thoughts entirely known. Over the years, the campaign against bear bile farming has often been a sensitive one, but today it is clear that the issue is finally mainstream and even schools are engaged and involved, with support and numbers growing all the time.
The massive movement among the people of China is reflected by the support of pharmacies throughout the country who are taking a stand against the bear bile industry.
On our 15th anniversary, after exhaustive preparation by Toby Zhang and our team, we joined with the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) community in a celebration of harmony with nature, and "Healing without Harm" at a hotel in Chengdu.
Growing from four pharmacy chains and 33 individual TCM shops in 2010, the "Healing without Harm" campaign today sees a total of 11 pharmacy chains and 260 pharmacies proclaiming that they will neither sell nor prescribe bear bile to their customers. Their courage is particularly impressive as it is not always easy for those in the medical profession to stand up and make their feelings about this issue known. At the ceremony renowned Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor, Professor Liu Zhen Cai told the assembled pharmacists,
"You love people and you love animals. Traditional Chinese Medicine was always called a kind practice, so we should be kind. 'Healing without Harm' is a campaign that is named very properly. It is not proper and it is not humane to hurt animals unnecessarily while treating people."
Because of the kindness and support of those in the medical community standing up against the use of bear bile we believe we are reaching a turning point, and we are calling on more professionals in the medical field in this campaign to end bear bile farming once and for all. It is simply the right thing to do--for the bears and for the good of people's health. "Healing without Harm" shows the true harmony between traditional Chinese medicine and nature.