Animal Products in Traditional Chinese Medicine

A range of animal products are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and these raise a number of serious issues.

The use of animal products in treatments may present a problem, for some people especially vegans and vegetarians. TCM practitioners can often use alternatives to animal products.

• The use of endangered species is particularly controversial in TCM. For example:

    – tiger penis and rhinoceros horn are considered aphrodisiacs,
    rhinoceros horn is thought to help reduce fever,
    – ground tiger bones are thought to be stimulants,
    – and so on.

The use of such exotic animals in medicine has undoubtedly reduced the numbers of some species and, for others, it has helped push them towards or even into extinction.

• Dried seahorses are used extensively in TCM, and this is having a major impact on populations of wild seahorses in their natural habitats.

• Other species of animals are subject to hideously cruel lives in woefully cramped cages so that various by products can be extracted from them during their unhappy and uncomfortable lives. For example, bears are kept in cages so that bile can be siphoned from them.

Bear Bile

The bears are fitted with a permanent catheter so that the maximum amount of bile can be extracted as easily as possible, and this causes a great deal of pain to the bears, causes damage to the bear’s intestines, and often leads to the premature death of the bears. However, due to international pressure and attention on the issues surrounding its harvesting, bear bile is now rarely used by practitioners outside of China. However, given the massive population of China, the demand for bear bile is still enormous. Outside of China, the gallbladders from butchered cattle are recommended as a substitute for bear bile.

Shark Fin Soup

Shark Fin Soup is traditionally regarded as beneficial for health throughout East Asia for its (claimed) ability to strengthen the waist, supplement vital energy, nourish the blood, invigorate kidney and lung function, and improve the digestion.

Even in China, Chinese Herbal Medicine practitioners are slowly taking note of the controversy and public outrage that has resulted from its cruel and inhumane use and slaughter of animals, especially when those animals are endangered. Slowly, many practitioners are moving away from the use of such ingredients or sourcing ingredients from more acceptable sources, such as from cows.

However, many Chinese Herbal Medicine practitioners and their patients still insist on using the traditional ingredients, even if this results in the slaughter or inhumane treatment of endangered animals. As a result of this continued demand, a burgeoning black market has sprung up for the sale of animals and animal parts provided by poachers who continue to hunt even the most endangered and restricted animals.