Bear bile farms, where Asiatic black bears, also called moon bears, are kept in small cages in order to harvest bile extracted from their gallbladders, are often cited as the worst of the worst when it comes to animal welfare. But, thanks to a push for new synthetic alternatives to the substance, the heyday of bear bile may soon be behind us.
Valued for its ursodeoxycholic acid, an ingredient used in traditional medicine to treat a wide range of ailments from bruising to epilepsy, bear bile supports an industry that currently uses about 12,000 bears (sun bears and brown bears are sometimes used along with moon bears). In addition to sordid conditions and lack of medical care, the bears are subjected to excruciating extraction procedures.
Interestingly enough, the company looking for bear bile alternatives is in fact one of the biggest players in the industry. KaiBao Pharmaceutical is a major outlet for industrial bear bile farms. But as public opinion has turned against the practice of bear bile farming, the company has developed a five-year plan to support alternatives and has even gained support from China's Ministry of Science and Technology.