China is facing criticism for endorsing bear bile as a treatment for COVID-19, not long after banning the trade and consumption of wild animals in the country the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected close to 82,000 people and claimed 3,300 lives in mainland China, the country decided to impose a permanent ban on the trade and consumption of wild animals for food.

China's ban on trade and consumption of wildlife

wildlife market in China
A wildlife market in China's Hunan province. Wikimedia Commons / Ye Wei

The ban was enforced following enormous pressure from Chinese citizens as well as people from around the globe to end the use of wildlife as a resource, after it was revealed that a wild animal market in Wuhan may have been where the COVID-19 pandemic originated from.

Promotion of bear bile as COVID-19 treatment

Less than a month after the ban came into effect, the Chinese government has recommended using Tan Re Qing, an injection that contains bear bile to treat severe and critical cases of COVID-19. In addition to bear bile, the supposed cure also contains goat horn powder and other extracts.

The treatment is one of many remedies published by China's National Health Commission in a list released earlier this month, according to a National Geographic report.

Backlash on social media

Mosul Zoo
Reuters

Shortly after the National Geographic report was published, animal rights activists and netizens took to social media to express their anger over China's contradictory approach to wildlife: shutting down the live trade in animals for food on the one hand and promoting the trade in animal parts on the other.

"A bear bile farm pumps bile, used in Chinese medicine, from the gallbladder of a sedated bear," wrote writer Michael Doran on Twitter. "Diseases are common on these farms, so bile from sick animals can be contaminated with blood, faeces, pus, urine, and bacteria that may threaten human health."

"Seems like China has become the farm of growing horrible viruses that may someday wipe out humans from the blue planet," wrote another user.

"Ban the entry of all Chinese nationals! All the American companies and investors slowly replace their dependency on Chinese manufacturing," one of the users said as a response to Doran's tweet. "There will be another pandemic in the near future originated in China! China doesn't learn its lessons, so the world must remind them."

Loopholes in China's wildlife ban

Bats, rats, snakes still for sale in Indonesian market amid coronavirus fears
Bats, rats, snakes and many animals are still being sold at Indonesia's Tomohon Extreme Market Posts from the Edge/Facebook

China's wildlife ban is limited to the trade and consumption of animals for food, which means, the rules do not apply to the trade of animals for fur, medicine or research, as pointed out by an analysis by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"This creates a potential loophole for traffickers who may exploit the non-food exemptions to sell or trade live wildlife," the group said in a statement.

For instance, bear bile, which is essentially a fluid that is secreted by the animal's liver and stored in the gallbladder, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since the eighth century so traffickers are exploiting this loophole to go on with their activities, putting the entire world at risk of another virus outbreak. Even in the case of pangolins, which have been found to carry strains of COVID-19 (along with bats), the wild mammals continue to be sold in China's markets as their scales are used for medicinal purposes.