Bear Bile IPO Bid Gets Little Authoritative Support
BEIJING -- After weeks of criticism, Chinese bear bile producer Guizhentang faces a bumpier path for going public, as discussion over its listing attempt has continued to sizzle at the country's annual legislative session but little support has been found.
Xiao Wei, a Chinese lawmaker and an authority in the pharmaceutical industry, voiced straight opposition to the initial public offering (IPO) of Guizhentang Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd, the East China company that harvests bile from live bears to use in its products.
It would be "inappropriate" for pharmaceutical companies that turn a profit selling bear bile to seek a listing in the capital market, said Xiao, who is a member of the Chinese Pharmacopoeia Commission and head of a state key laboratory for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
"It could mean that they will extract more bile from live bears," said Xiao, who is also a deputy of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature.
For nearly 3,000 years, bear bile has been used as an ingredient in TCM to cure eye and liver ailments.
"I only approve of the use of bear bile in the treatment of very rare or acute diseases, but I do not think it can be used that much in common diseases," he said, adding that he believes the medical value of bear bile is "complicated and irreplaceable."
Guizhentang has already established an industry chain, as it feeds bears for their bile, which is against international animal protection conventions, he said.
Guizhentang has been under fire for weeks since it was found to have resumed a plan to go public to expand its bile production. The company's last IPO attempt in February 2011 floundered amid fierce public opposition.
The bear bile producer allowed more than 100 reporters to visit its bear farm in February amid protests from the public and animal welfare activists, but this has done little to help quell criticism.
In response to public concern, Chinese securities authorities said they have "noticed" the recent debates over bear bile products and are soliciting opinions from relevant departments on the matter.
Zhu Congjiu, assistant chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), said the CSRC will examine Guizhentang's IPO plan after seeking opinions on whether the listing will be in line with China's industrial policies.
In response to a similar question, Chinese Health Minister Chen Zhu said human beings should follow the principle of sustainable use of natural resources and protection over bio-diversity.
"We have ethical principles that human beings and nature should maintain a compatible relationship, and that animals, including experimental ones, should be strictly protected," Chen said while commenting on the bear bile extraction.
"When humans and nature have a conflict of interests, we tend to choose the lesser of two evils," he said.
But some showed a more tough stance by calling for legislation to ban bile extraction from live bears.
"I have been in tears since I heard of the extraction on my plane back from Hong Kong," said Feng Jicai, a well-known Chinese writer and vice-chairman of China Federation of Literary and Art Circles.
"It is not a question whether extracting bile from live bears should be banned," said Feng, who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top political advisory body.
Wang Guoqiang, vice health minister and director of the State Administration of TCM, said Chinese authorities are promoting research to find for alternatives to animal-derived drugs.
Wang said TCM authorities do not oppose public discussion on the issue, but he called on the public to approach the debate from more rational perspectives, since a substitute for bear bile has yet to be found and more work needs to be done to improve the technologies.