Washington, D.C. – Today, Animal Wellness Action applauded lawmakers for introducing legislation to stop the exploitation of bears, seeking to end the killing of the animals for their bile and gall bladders. Representatives Ted Lieu, D-Calif.; Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Ann Kuster, D-N.H., Glenn Thompson, R-Penn., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif.., introduced the Bear Protection Act, H.R. 2325, to crack down on the global trafficking of bear parts, months after China’s Ministry of Health announced that it considered bear bile an effective palliative treatment for patients suffering from COVID-19.
Bear bill is obtained for use mainly in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and it is sourced from bear “farms” in China and Vietnam — where the animals are housed in concrete pits and “milked” for the bodily fluid – and by killing bears from the wild. There are eight species of bears in the world, most of them threatened or endangered, and once gall bladders are extracted from the body of a bear, they are visually indistinguishable in terms of species type.
The Bear Protection Act would forbid any interstate transport or sales of bear galls and other viscera and forbid any imports or exports of these body parts. It does not restrict legal hunting of bears or use of their parts for trophies.
“We shouldn’t be killing rhinos for their horns, elephants for their tusks, or bears for their gall bladders,” said Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action. “With China’s Ministry of Health announcing that bear bile is an acceptable treatment for COVID-19 patients, we are one major outbreak away from a spike in demand from bile from bears. Cruelty and killing would be the downstream effects should that scenario play out.”
“As a proud member of the Animal Protection Caucus, I am horrified that bears in the United States are being poached for their internal organs,” said Rep. Ann Kuster (NH-02). “The demand for these organs has already devastated bear populations in Asia, and we must protect our iconic bear populations in the United States from illegal poaching. I am pleased to join my colleagues to re-introduce this legislation that will proactively protect our bears by banning the trade and transport of these bear organs.”
“As an avid sportsman and conservationist, I am shocked by the harvesting gallbladders from bears. This is inhumane and we must end the illicit trade of bear organs,” said Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (PA-15). “Bears are magnificent creatures — even when they invade our backyard apiary in rural Pennsylvania – and we must ensure the longevity of the species by protecting them from this senseless practice,” added Thompson.
“This legislation will proactively help protect dwindling bear population in our country and ensure they are around for future generations,” said Rep. Rodney Davis (IL-13). “I am proud to join my colleagues to bring an end to the inhumane practice of poaching and selling bear parts.”
Across the United States, bears and cubs are killed by poachers who take only their gallbladders, and sometimes their paws, leaving the rest of the bear behind. The gallbladders are easy to conceal and fetch a high price (exceeding $1,000 per gallbladder) due to their use in some traditional Chinese medicine.
The trade is heavily centralized in China and South Korea, where bears are farmed for their bile in what amounts to a horror show – bears are kept in small cages for years with a tube inserted directly into their gallbladder to obtain bile, often until the bear dies from the effects of this invasive and dangerous process. Asian Bear populations in the wild are imperiled, while other species of bears throughout the world face threats from the trade in their parts and the effects of other human activities.
There are 40 states have laws on the books to address this trade, revealing the emerging consensus to address this problem. The Bear Protection Act is needed to make a global statement about the trade from the United States and to address gaps or inconsistencies in state laws. A trafficker in Colorado may face up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine, while a trafficker in Kentucky may receive only a $100 fine. Federal sentencing guidelines dictate that the market value of the item must be at least $350 for a prosecution under the federal Lacey Act, but the courts attribute the value of a gallbladder to only $280.
These House lawmakers introduced this same legislation last year, and also in 2020, Senators John Kennedy, R-La., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced a companion bill. A Senate bill is forthcoming.
It’s not a new issue in the Congress. In past years, Rep. Raul Grijalva, now the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced similar legislation several years ago, as did U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell. McConnell’s bill passed the Senate twice, but it was not acted upon by the House.
The bill has a broad range of endorsing organization, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)