Bear farming is a practice whereby bile is extracted from a live bear's gall bladder. In the 1980s the bear farming industry was set up to intensively farm the bears. The bile is used as a medicine for colds and flu. Over 12,000 bears are being kept in bear farms across China and Korea.
This technique involves the insertion of a stainless steel or latex catheter into the bear's gall bladder. The catheter is inserted through a hole cut in the bear's abdomen, and attached to the gall bladder. The outer end is left to protrude from the bear's abdomen by several centimetres.
A variation of this technique involves the end of the catheter being fitted to a detachable plastic bag. The bag is held in place in front of the bear's abdomen by a permanent metal harness. This procedure is now illegal, although still widely used.
Fistulae or Free Dripping Technique: In 1993, the Chinese authorities began to promote the use of new surgical techniques for bile extraction and the abolition of iron corsets. Today it is the only legal method of bile extraction in China. The free dripping technique involves the creation of a tissue duct between the gall bladder and the abdominal wall, using parts of the bear‘s inner body lining, known as the mesentery. Bile is collected by inserting a rod through the fistula towards the gall bladder, which then drains its content. To prevent the fistula from closing up the wound must be constantly re-opened - usually once or twice a day.
Extraction of the bile is an inherently cruel and painful procedure, and bears are known to moan in pain when bile is being extracted. Bears are left with open weeping wounds that often become infected and inflamed, causing undoubtedly pain. The enclosures that the bears are kept in do not provide sufficient enrichment, and bears often show stereotypical behaviour to cope with their surroundings.
There are many herbal and synthetic alternatives to bear bile. In 1994, the Chinese Association of Medicine and Philosophy and EarthCare established that there are many alternatives to bear bile and published their findings in a report. Today, large quantities of the active ingredient of bear bile, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), are made synthetically and are widely used in the west and in Asia. It is estimated that 100,000kg of this synthetic UDCA is being consumed each year in China, Japan and South Korea, and that global consumption may be double this figure. WSPA produced an alternatives report, outlining the alternative products that can be used.