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Bear Bile

Bear Gallbladder - Photo credit: Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR)"Some cultures around the world cruelly exploit bears for their internal organs. This has created a market for gallbladders (and bile) that has resulted in the killing of many bears in America — including California — where the bear is killed, the gallbladder removed, and the carcass left behind. This practice is not only disgusting, but it is also inhumane. The Bear Protection Act would prohibit the import, export, and interstate commerce in bear gallbladders and bile, hopefully deterring poachers and smugglers from engaging in this dreadful practice."
— Congressman John Campbell (CA-48)

Produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, bile is an acidic mixture of acids, cholesterol, water, and electrolytes that aids in the digestion of food.

For at least three thousand years, bear bile has been used in traditional Chinese medicine. The source of the bile is the gallbladder, usually that of an Asiatic black bear (or moon bear, so called because of the cream-colored crescent moon shape on their chest). To collect the bile the bear is killed.

In the early 1980s the Chinese government encouraged bear farming. Originally developed in Korea, bear farming allows bear farmers keep the bears alive and repeatedly remove their bile. Before bear farming, bear bile was only available in small quantities. Once commercial bear farming began in China, the supply of bile increased tremendously, fueling the international bear bile industry.

In 1993 the brutalities and cruelties of Chinese bear bile farming were exposed by Jill Robinson, whose work to bring an end to this practice earned her an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II. Born Free Foundation founder Virginia McKenna has said of her, "Jill Robinson is an outstanding person, she's hugely courageous. She will inspire many young people and is a shining example to everyone."

Although the modern pharmaceutical industry has made bear farming unnecessary — and there is indeed no bear farming in the United States — there is demand for bear bile and bear gallbladders.

Asian bear bile products are imported to the United States illegally (illegal by definition because the Asiatic black bear is protected by international wildlife law). Then there is the trade in domestic bear bile. In the United States, 16 states still allow the commerce in domestic bear products in some form. This lack of uniform laws from state to state allows the domestic black market in bear gallbladders and bear bile to continue. This may seem confusing, but the net result is this: Our black bears, grizzly bears, and polar bears are poached for their gallbladders while a lack of uniform laws creates loopholes in the prosecution and conviction those who profit from this commerce.

H.R. 3480, the Bear Protection Act of 2009, was introduced into the House of Representatives in the 111th Session of Congress. The bill has a specific purpose: to uniformly prohibit the interstate trade in bear parts and help law enforcement officers protect bear populations. It does not prohibit hunting or tell states how to manage their bear populations.