Guizhentang, the Fujian-based medicine company criticized for its inhumane bear bile extraction practices, yesterday opened their bear farm to members of the Chinese media. With Guizhentang applying for a public listing for the second time, the company is facing criticism and boycotts from animal rights activists and foundations, including the Animals Asia Foundation.
During the 2-hour visit, journalists saw bear houses and witnessed the process of bile extraction, and were required to follow harsh stipulations throughout the visit. Each approved journalist only had 3 minutes to witness the houses where gall was collected. Journalists remained silent, with no flash photography allowed throughout the process, during which no questions were allowed from media members.
Guizhentang explained that the various measures were taken to avoid frightening the bears.
The whole process of bile extraction was reportedly calm, with bears continuing to eat while their bile was being extracted. Some bears were seemingly unaffected after the extraction, while some became fatigued. There were no animal experts nor activists allowed to partake in the day’s demonstration.
Zhang Xiaohai, a China spokesperson from the Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) said their request was refused by Guizhentang, and that the company avoided them and refused to communicate with the foundation, although the foundation was listed in the invitation.
In a statement posted on the AAF’s microblog account on Sina Weibo, Zhang said the way Guizhentang handled the media trip was “disappointing” and far from the “open” and transparent” approach that was promised.
“From this incident, we feel there is no more need for us to have any form of contact with Guizhentang in the future,” said Zhang.
Netizens have derided the media open day, pointing out that journalists were only given a small glimpse of the bear farm, and failed to explore the issue in a more in-depth fashion. Some commenters also question whether or not the apparently placid bears were anesthetized during the extraction.
Nevertheless, the press conference conducted by Guizhentang after the visit had some interesting exchanges.
Here is one excerpt of the conversation:
Guizhentang staff: The bears don’t seem to be in any pain.
Journalist: You’re not a bear. How do you know the bears weren’t in pain?
Director of Guizhentang: You’re not a bear either. How do you know the bears were in pain?
Journalist: Is there any disease you can get if you don’t take medicine containing bear bile?
Zhang Shichen (Chinese medicine expert): I don’t know. Would anyone die if he didn’t eat steamed mantou buns?
Journalist: So bear bile is the same as mantou?