On Monday, March 14, a bill to protect bears from profiteering by banning the commercial trade in their gallbladders and bile (which is used in traditional Asian medicine) was introduced in New York. Like my home state of Vermont, New York shares the dubious distinction of being one of only five states that allow trade in bear gallbladders and bile.
A legal market helps hide illegal trade in bear viscera. That’s because profiteers operating in neighboring states, like New Jersey and Pennsylvania where the trade is prohibited, avoid prosecution by “laundering” their bear products through states where it is legal. Examples of this practice abound, including a joint undercover operation by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bear gallbladders and bile are in high commercial demand for use in traditional Asian medicine. In fact, they’re in such high demand in Asia that Asiatic black bears (also known as moon bears) are now endangered. Some Asian countries, such as China and Vietnam, meet demand through commercial farms that “milk” bile from captive bears kept in coffin-like cages. I wrote about this extensively in my book, ANIMAL INVESTIGATORS, and noted that many traditional medicine practitioners in Asia and elsewhere are opting to use herbal substitutes for the bear bile, and advocating that their colleagues do the same.
It’s a high stakes game. Bear gallbladders and bile can sell for hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the point in the supply chain. Because the Asiatic bear is now so rare in the wild, poachers and traders have turned to their closest cousin, the North American black bear, to meet demand. Born Free USA reports that “undercover surveys on the sale of bear bile products found that 20 percent of New York City shops carrying traditional Asian medicine openly sell bear bile, including intact gallbladders taken from local wild bears.”
The bill introduced on Monday (Assembly Bill 6291/Senate Bill 3858) was sponsored by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D-67th) and Senator Mark Grisanti (R-60th). This bipartisan bill would amend the New York Environmental Conservation law to make it illegal for any person to sell or barter, offer to sell or barter, possess, purchase, transport, deliver or receive, bear gallbladders, bile or any product, item or substance containing, or labeled or advertised as containing, bear gallbladders or bile. I just hope that Vermont can follow suit.