Bear and Antelope DNA Found in Traditional Chinese Medicine


Scientists at Australia’s Murdoch University have found traces of endangered animals including the Asiatic black bear and the saiga antelope in fifteen traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) products via DNA sequencing. As such treatments often contain numerous ingredients and are often in pill and powder form, determining exactly what is in them is difficult. Using a deep-sequencing approach, the scientists were able to discover that the 15 TCM products contain toxic chemicals and animal DNA from endangered species, including from animals protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

As a recent PLoS Genetics article by the Murdoch University scientists says, such treatments have been practiced for thousands of years in China; it is only in the past few decades that they have been used outside its borders. More and more, concerns have been raised not only about the efficacy of such treatments but of their safety, and for good reason.

Scientists studying herbal teas, capsules, powders and flakes that had been seized by Australian border officials found that some contained plant agents such as Aristolochic acid, which can cause urinary tract and kidney cancer, and also the herb ephedra, which is potentially poisonous. Furthermore, some of the 68 different plant agencies that scientists identified could be toxic if taken in sufficient quantitiesgbut the amounts of each ingredient were not listed on the outside packacing. Lead researcher Michael Bunce, a Murdoch University Australian Research Council Future Fellow, also noted that one product whose packaging said it was “100 percent Saiga antelope” actually contained quantities of goat and sheep DNA in notable amounts.

Bear paws, as well as bear bile and the animal’s genitalia, are sought after in TCM to treat ailments including cancer, arthritis and impotence. The market for TCM treatments is such that people have recently been caught attempting to smuggle animal parts out of and into China.  In 2011, a man from British Columbia was seized with three severed bear paws that he was trying to take to China via the Vancouver International Airport. In January, authorities including the Forestry Police at the Chongqing Airport seized ten severed bear paws. The paws were found in cartons said to being used for shipping seafood and belonging to a logistics company. Photos of the authorities opening the containers and of the bear paws — rear legs severed at the joints — are posted at China Smack.

China needs to take greater efforts and crack down on those who use endangered animals in TCM. As these remedies have been used for so long in China, it is also necessary to educate people in China that such treatments are of highly questionable efficacy and are often not safe. Even more, the U.S. and other countries need to step up efforts to test TCM products and warn consumers that what the packaging says can often be very different from what an herbal tea, powder or pill is actually made of.

Take Action: Sign the petition against these inhumane practices.


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Photo by piclax


Valentina R.
Valentina R3 years ago

China animal abuse? Not a surprise. Those people should be exterminated.

Marieanne Phillips

Signed the petition. Why doesn't it surprise me. A race of people who refuse to be compassionate to animals.

Meris M.
Meris M.7 years ago

It has just been reported that thousands of pills filled with powdered human baby flesh have been discovered by customs officials in South Korea. The capsules are viewed as being a medicinal “cure-all”. The grim trade is being run from China where corrupt medical staff are said to be tipping off medical companies when babies are aborted or delivered still-born.

Carrie Anne Brown

already signed but thanks for sharing :)

Aimee A.
Aimee A7 years ago

I'm just so glad that I don't have to rely on taking Chinese medicine! Thanks for posting!

Jill R.
Jill R.7 years ago

Well - I have read the comments and see that there are a few people that understand the use of Homeopathic medicines have a place in treating certain illnesses. I am all for that. However, I cannot condone the use of ANY animal parts especially animals which are now on the brink of extinction. The Chinese have brought this upon themselves by systematically obliterating various animals in Asia and are now in the process of doing the same in Africa. This is MY planet as well and I cannot abide the arrogance and disrespect that the Chinese have for it.

Melania Padilla
Melania P7 years ago

Signed and shared! Sick of chinese people and their "medicinal" stuff!

Leigh E.
Leigh EVERETT7 years ago


To the racist Carol K. (who condemns whole populations in the blink of an eye)
If you took time to do a little research, you would know that 95% of ALL raw materials for modern medicine is manufactured in either China, Japan or Korea. Anything boasting 'Made in USA' simply means that the packaging is manufactured in the USA (nutritional manufacturers and retailers in the USA are not required to disclose on their product labels where their nutritional raw materials are manufactured).

Here is some more info on the subject:

Leigh E.
Leigh EVERETT7 years ago

I agree wholeheartedly with Philip A. and Bryon S.

A friend of my uncle's came down with an illness that traditional doctors (you know, the ones controlled by Big Pharma) could not cure and eventually a second opinion told him to visit a chinese doctor. He was given a mixture of three herbs and told to take them and return in three weeks. When he returned, the chinese doctor took away one of the herbs and replaced it with another and he was told to take that for another three weeks. IT CURED HIM. We are too quick to presume that our traditional methods are the best(they are far from it). These chinese doctors have been practicing these methods for centuries and in many many cases have proven to be effective.
We are criticizing their use of animal byproducts and toxic substances and although I don't necessarily agree with it I don't see why we don't criticize the use use of them in Homeopathic medicines(everybody seems to be OK with that). Yes, homeopathic remedies often use things like snake's blood, eagle's feathers, and oh yes the common Arnica with is a poisonous plant that in certain quantities kills us in excruciating pain and yet homeopathic medicine sells it for pain relief. ???

To the racist Carol K. (who condemns whole populations in the blink of an eye)
If you took time to do a little research, you would know that 95% of ALL raw materials for modern medicine is manufactured in either China, Japan or Korea. Anything boasting 'Made in USA' simply means

Philip Amos
.7 years ago

Byron S. writes a very important comment. I have a friend, a former student of mine, who is fully qualified in both Western and Chinese medicine. All the latter potions he prescribes are the parts of plants, chiefly roots. I've consulted him often, but what I most recall is his treatment of a young woman I sent to him. At 23, she had had shingles continuously for five years, and I am sure that women reading this will see the implications to that also re her social life. He sent her with a note to a Chinese herbal store and she came away with a parcel of herbs and roots, including Astragalis, now a focus of Western researchers. In three weeks the shingles was gone; my last sight of her was with her arms round Dr. Wang sobbing and saying 'thank you' over and over again. It has now been found that Astragalis is a natural source in Interferon, with great potential in the treatment of diseases such as MS and a virus inhibitor -- which would explain its effect on Shingles. As Byron says, let us distinguish and not demonize all Chinese medicine.