Pharm company opens bear farm to reporters

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, February 23, 2012
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A Chinese pharmaceutical company that harvests bile from live bears to use in its products on Wednesday morning allowed more than 100 reporters to visit its bear farm amid protests from the public and animal welfare activists.

The bear farm of Guizhentang.

The farm, owned by Guizhentang Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. in east China's Fujian province, is home to more than 600 bears, according to one employee of the farm.

The bile extraction process was demonstrated for reporters attending the opening. A farm employee disinfected a surgical cut in the bear's abdomen while the bear remained confined in a small cage. Then, he inserted an 8-cm-long tube into the cut, taking out 100 milliliters of bile before removing the tube and disinfection the incision.

The whole process lasted about 30 seconds, during which the bear consumed liquid food and remained quiet.

Guizhentang has been under fire since the announcement of its planned IPO a couple of weeks ago, with animal rights activists believing the company will expand the scale of its bile-harvesting operations.

The opening of the bear farm is believed to have been done to help quell criticism, although a group from the Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) was barred from visiting the farm Wednesday morning, sparking further protest from the Hong Kong-based non-government organization.

Zhang Xiaohai, AAF's external affairs director, said Guizhentang did not give a reason for the ban and told the group to simply wait for further notice. Guizhentang later said it would arrange an exclusive visit for the AAF on Wednesday afternoon.

"We were very disappointed with Guizhentang's actions and attitude," Zhang said.

Guizhentang said journalists, NGOs and opinion leaders could choose to visit on either Wednesday or Friday, the AAF said in a post on its official account on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese microblogging site.

Several reporters complained about the AAF ban. Guizhentang did not permit reporters to take pictures or video during the extraction process, urging them to leave immediately after the process was completed and refusing to take questions at that time.

Many netizens have called for the company's IPO bid to be blocked. Its last IPO attempt failed in February 2011 amid fierce public opposition.

"No matter what the outcome is, the dispute itself is a sign of major progress, as more people have come to care about animals and join in the supervisory process," said Shang Jing, a professor at China Pharmaceutical University.

Shang said he hopes the dispute will give a boost to the search for alternatives to animal-derived drugs.

For nearly 3,000 years, bear bile has been used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine to cure eye and liver ailments.

While the general public and animal welfare advocates have called for eliminating bear bile extraction, some TCM experts have defended the industry, citing the "irreplaceable" medical value of bear bile.

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