BEIJING, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- Chinese chemists have joined animal rights groups in search of substitutes for bear bile, which is believed to help cure ailments such as eye and liver problems.
"Research and development of substitute ingredients are essential in protecting animal welfare and boosting technological advancements," said Prof. Gao Yimin, an expert on traditional Chinese medicine at the Beijing-based Capital Medical University.
At a forum sponsored by Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), a non-government organization engaged in animal welfare, in Beijing Tuesday, Prof. Gao said China's success in developing artificial musk, a substance obtained from the gland of male musk deer, could be copied to save bears from the torture of bile extraction.
China has 68 registered bear farms where more than 10,000 black bears are kept for bile extraction. These farms produce about 30 tonnes of bear bile powder in total each year.
In Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, bear bile powder can sell for as high as 4,000 yuan (597 U.S. dollars) a kilogram. Some high-end alcohol and shampoo products list bear bile as an ingredient.
According to a survey by AAF, about 190 drugs containing bear bile are sold on the Chinese market, most of which have similar functions, treating sore throats and hemorrhoids.
Bile extraction, however, was an extremely cruel process that often caused liver cancer or organ failure and eventually killed many bears, said AAF veterinary director Heather Bacon.