In Traditional Chinese Medicine, bear bile is considered to have powerful medicinal qualities. Bear bile is thought to be beneficial to the liver, have anti-inflammatory properties, and has even been proposed as a potential cure for type 1 diabetes (although studies have disproven this point). In Asia, sun bears and moon bears are the primary targets of the TCM bear bile market, held in large scale extraction facilities, in wire cages and routinely drained of their bile fluids. Yes, it is as brutal as it sounds.

Sun and moon bears have become critically endangered as a result of the demand for bear bile, compounded with habitat loss. However, there may be a major breakthrough that could put an end to this cruel and unusual industry.

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KaiBao Pharmaceuticals, the largest bear bile retailer has announced that they are now pursuing research on synthetic alternatives for bear bile. According to a press release from Animals Asia, KaiBao purchased “18 tonnes of bear bile powder” in 2012, putting into context the incredible demand for this ingredient in TCM.

Plans for the company’s project, “Key Technology and Clinical Research of Developing Bear Bile Powder in Vitro” has garnered support from the Chinese State Minister of Science and Technology and has been incorporated into a five year plan to accomplish the transition.

Animals Asia founder Jill Robinson showed support for this development stating, “We welcome this decision and are in support of such measures that will replace bear bile with a synthetic alternative…We applaud the official backing of this research and believe it is good news for the bears and the millions of people who have campaigned for their freedom.”

While this is incredible news for the bear species that have been greatly imperiled as a result of the bear bile industry, it is important to note that the synthetic alternative will be derived from poultry bile. Animals Asia contends that this is a positive step for the animals that have been suffering at the hands of the bear bile industry, but the fight to end the suffering of animals in intensive farming conditions continues.

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Image source: Ryan E. Poplin/Wikimedia Commons