Are There Endangered Animals in Your So-Called Chinese Herbs?

Asiatic bear

If you’re like most animal lovers, you care about animals around the globe in addition to your own. This probably extends to those kept in cages for life and exploited for their bodily fluids, or wild animals that are being hunted by poachers for their bones, horns or fur. You may seek to live sustainably and purchase locally grown products when possible. You may even pursue holistic or integrative medicine for your dog or cat, which may involve Chinese herbs, in order to reduce the synthesized drugs he or she ingests and the negative impact of some pharmaceuticals on their bodies and the planet. If so, I have some questions for you to think about.

Q: Does your holistic veterinarian sell Chinese herbs and, if so, do you realize that they may contain endangered species, worms or insects?

A: If not, you also might have missed that Chinese folkloric herbal prescribing has traditionally involved heavy metals and toxins. Even if you buy them from your veterinarian, many traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or traditional Chinese veterinary medicine (TCVM) “herbal” products made and sold in the U.S. and abroad have violated CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) rules. These have been instituted in order to prevent threats to the survival of wild species of animals and plants.

One would think this would worry certain “holistic” veterinarians who routinely sell Chinese “herbs,” but TCVM folkloric practices have become big business in the U.S. and Europe, nonetheless. What’s worse, TCVM veterinarians are trained to sell proprietary products — that is, mixtures prepared by a traditional Chinese medicine “master” that contain secret ingredients — despite having little information about safety, mechanisms of action, interactions, side effects, manufacturing standards, ecological risks or public health concerns.

Q: Considering the Food and Drug Administration scrutiny that compounding pharmacies receive for the drugs they produce, how can anyone in the U.S. compound and sell pharmacologically active, even toxic, mixtures, not disclose their contents, and base the recipe on whatever plants, mammals, worms, insects or toxins he or she sees fit to include? How is this practice ethical or wise?1

A: Sorry, I cannot answer this, as I cannot even figure this out myself!

Likely, your veterinarian either doesn’t know or may prefer to ignore the fact that the traditional Chinese medicine “master” that he purchases products from not only often places problematic ingredients in them but also keeps the amount of them secret. This flies in the face of good medicine and ethics. If someone becomes ill as a result of the so-called herb, how should an emergency doctor or veterinarian treat that patient? How can a veterinarian anticipate interactions with medications when the contents are unknown?

You should not tolerate this. In fact, you should inform your veterinarian that these matters concern you and you will not purchase products with anything but plants that have been tested, proven safe for your animal and whose quantities appear on the label with complete disclosure of their sources.

Q: Would you approve of your dog or cat ingesting scorpions, earthworms or toxic plants such as strychnine? What about sea horses, dog penis, tiger bone and rhino horn?

A: Likely not. You would also probably be concerned if the bile in the so-called Chinese herb came from a bear that lived his entire life in a small cage with a tube in his gallbladder, in egregiously inhumane conditions. Most of these horribly treated individuals die from chronic infections or cancer of the liver.2


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