The State Council Information Office held a press conference on Thursday to give its response to foreign media concerns about bile extraction from bears and other animal welfare issues.
The illegal rearing of bears and/or extracting their bile in a cruel manner will attract severe penalties, according to a senior wildlife official.
But approved bear farms will continue to exist in China for the time being, as painlessly-extracted bile is crucial for medical purposes, he said, adding that farming has vastly helped prevent poaching.
Wang Wei, deputy chief of the Department of Wildlife Conservation under the State Forestry Administration, said: "Before we find good alternatives for bear bile, we do not have a timetable to eliminate the practice.”
Bear bile, considered an indispensable ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, is used in 123 drugs and has an efficacy not matched by any other substance, Wang said.
As a result, a host of patients rely on medicines containing bear bile for treatment. "So we must consider both the needs of medical treatment and the protection of wild bears, and find a win-win solution," Wang said.
He said that when bile-extraction technology was introduced to China, some used surgically implanted metal tubes, causing tremendous pain to the animals.
"That was a practice we are opposed to," he said, adding it happened before China's Wildlife Protection Law was enacted in 1988.
In addition to capping the production of bile powder, illegal or substandard farms have been shut down, reducing the number of farms from about 480 in the early 1990s to 68 fully regulated ones today, where about 7,000 bears live in a suitable environment, Wang said.
"The cruel farming practice has basically been abolished," Wang added. But he said some organizations or individuals are still using old videos or photos of illegal farms to exaggerate the current situation.
Other issues also addressed by officials at the press conference were:
Skinning animals: Cases of animals such as dogs and cats skinned alive is sporadic in some areas, Yu Fachang, a division director of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, said.
Sharks' fin: Yu said Chinese consumers are being advised to change their dietary habits and eat less of the traditional delicacy.
Li Yanliang, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture, said China strictly adheres to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, and has not violated the ban on the fishing of whale shark, basking shark or great white shark that are listed in the convention.
Dog killing: Guo Weimin, chief of the news department of the State Council Information Office, refuted some recent foreign media reports of the practice of public dog slaughters in Guangzhou of south China and some other cities.
(China.org.cn, China Daily January 13, 2006)