Traditional practitioners now avoid bear bile, survey finds

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A recent survey conducted by a non-governmental organization found that a majority of traditional medicine practitioners in Vietnam oppose bear bile farming and prefer herbal alternatives.

Many of the practitioners cited fears that the ursine bile can prove toxic when administered for relatively mild ailments.

"Ninety three percent of Vietnam's traditional medicine practitioners are opposed to bear bile farming and 76 percent have never prescribed bear bile," Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), a Hong Kong-based conservation group which seeks to eliminate cruelty to animals, said in a statement released on November 29.

Among 152 traditional medicine practitioners surveyed, only twenty four percent said they had prescribed bear bile to treat medical conditions ranging from fever to cirrhosis, according to the survey.

However, most of the traditional healers said they believe that bear bile is not safe for human consumption.

Indeed, the respondents reported seven cases of bear bile poisoning, four of which had resulted in the death of the patient.

Dr. Nguyen Xuan Huong, chairman of the Traditional Medicine Association of Vietnam, has said that bear bile does not play a prominent role in traditional medicine.

"Respondents commented that bear bile is expensive, of poor quality and not scientifically proven," AAF said in the statement, urging for the use of herbal alternatives.

"This survey shows what we have known to be true for a long time, that people who keep bears and extract and sell their bile can't use traditional medicine as the reason for this practice." said Tuan Bendixsen, AAF's Vietnam director. "Traditional medicine practitioners have clearly rejected the use of bear bile."

Bear bile farming has been outlawed in Vietnam since 1992 though people are allowed to keep bears as pets. According to government figures released in 2005, there are 1,453 bear farmers and a total of 4,190 bears in Vietnam.

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