A black bear is locked in an iron cage barely large enough for its body, waiting for bile extraction at a bear farm in Weihai, Shandong province, in April 2010.
A Chinese medicine professional denied claims that the practice of extracting bear bile is cruel and promised to give media a chance to visit the country's bear farms.
The extraction of bear bile for medicinal purposes has met opposition from animal rights activists in recent years. Opponents say the bears are subjected to crude surgery that leaves permanent wounds in their abdominal walls and gall bladders, causing serious diseases and even death.
The protest became increasingly intense in past weeks after a pharmaceutical company in Fujian province that makes medicine from bear bile filed for approval by the Growth Enterprise Board to be listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.
The company, Guizhentang Pharmaceuticals, is expected to use the funds raised by the initial public offering (IPO) to expand the size of its farm and the number of its bears, media reported.
Fang Shuting, head of the China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), said there is a great misunderstanding among the media and the public about the process of extracting bear bile.
"Such cruel practices happened more than 20 years ago," he said at a news conference on Thursday afternoon.
"The process of extracting bear bile now only takes about 10 seconds. During that short period, the black bear feels no pain or any strange sensations, and can play and eat as usual," he said.
"Based on what I saw on the farms, the bears look very comfortable after the extraction."