China defends use of animal parts in TCM

Replacing them with substitutes would make traditional medicine less effective, say officials

BEIJING • Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) risks extinction if there is a push by the government to completely replace the wild animal parts now used with substitutes, a senior Chinese lawmaker has said.

China, where an animal-loving middle class has been trying to change old ways, has promoted substitutes for tiger bones, rhino horns and other wild animal products, but doubts persist about their usefulness among some officials.

In 1993, Beijing banned trade in tiger bones and rhino horns, both prized in TCM, as part of global efforts to halt declining animal stocks. But illegal poaching continues, driven by illegal demand in an increasingly affluent country.

Speaking yesterday after China amended its wildlife protection law, Mr Zhai Yong, head of Parliament's environment and resources protection committee legislation department, admitted that using wild animals for medicine was highly controversial.

But substitutes reduce the effectiveness of traditional medicine, he said. "If, in the future, original products from wild animals are all substituted, our Chinese medicine perhaps won't be of any use any more. This issue needs to be discussed by us Chinese people," he added.

Commercial tiger farms in China are legal and tiger parts from these farms often end up being made into tonics and going into other medicines, animal rights groups say.

Substitutes exist for tiger bones and many other products from wild animals such as bear bile, which is originally extracted from live animals, a method condemned by animal rights groups as barbaric.

Chief engineer Yan Xun, who is from the wildlife preservation department in the State Forestry Administration, said skin and bones from farmed tigers were "legal assets", but tiger bones could not be used in Chinese medicine since the 1993 ban.

State media last week cited another lawmaker, Ms Jin Hua, as saying the law should not ban the use of wildlife due to the importance of traditional Chinese medicine.

"Some international forces use this as a pretext to attack the raw material requirements for traditional Chinese medicines and often require China to forbid their trade," she was quoted as saying.

The amendments to the wildlife protection law brought only small changes. It still permits the continued "utilisation" of wild animals for medicine and also allows for them to be used in public performances, something animal rights groups have expressed concern about as well.

While the revised law bans the mistreatment of wild animals, it contains no specific punishments for any violations.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline 'China defends use of animal parts in TCM'. Print Edition | Subscribe