The World Health Organization Makes Appalling Decision To Recognize Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) That Includes Parts Of Endangered Species
This despite, Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Wildlife Conservation Trust urging the World Health Organization to condemn the use of traditional Chinese medicine utilizing wild animal parts (endangered species), including species which are captive-bred, sending an unequivocal message to the world that it will not legitimize this practice in TCM and the decline of wild animal populations around the globe.
As per the decision, the 11th version of WHO’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), including 400 diagnoses pertaining to TCM, will be adopted by 194 WHO member states in 2022.
Today, the tiger, pangolin, rhino and other endangered species are poached for their organs that are used in TCM to treat ailments from arthritis to epilepsy, despite there being no scientific basis to support false claims regarding the efficacy of these remedies. If that was not reason enough, there can be no justification to eradicate entire species when other existing and well-proven methods can clearly treat these medical challenges.
Wild cats, in particular, are under increasing threat due to TCM, and the demand it has created for ever-higher volumes of wild animal parts. With fewer than 2,500 tigers left in the wild, there is growing evidence that poachers are now targeting lions, jaguars and other big cats for their parts.
“Any recognition of traditional Chinese medicine from an entity of the World Health Organization’s stature will be perceived by the global community as a stamp of approval from the United Nations on the overall practice, which includes the use of remedies utilizing wild animal parts, “Panthera’s Chief Scientist and Tiger Program Senior Director, Dr John Goodrich, said in a statement. “Failure to specifically condemn the use of traditional Chinese medicine utilizing wild animal parts is egregiously negligent and irresponsible.”
“Taken with China’s recent proliferation of traditional Chinese medicine around the globe, WHO’s decision could contribute to the end of many species on the brink of extinction, like the tiger,” continued Goodrich.
According to Debbie Banks, EIA Tiger Campaign Leader, China’s licensed domestic trade in leopard bone wine and pills resulted in the seizure of more 5,000 Asian leopards in the last two decades. Banks notes that “In 2018, the trade in 1.23 tons of leopard bone was authorized between just two companies out of at least 30 that are licensed to produce leopard medicines.”
In response to recent criticism, WHO stated that inclusion of TCM in its global medical compendium does not mean it condones the use of animal parts or endorses the scientific validity of the practice, and that it recommends the enforcement of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
However, Panthera, EIA and Wildlife Conservation Trust are in agreement that this is how the world, including poaching syndicates, will interpret WHO’s decision, and that the organization has both a responsibility to specify what it will and will not support within TCM and an opportunity to stem the tide of biodiversity loss.
Many species included in TCM are also not protected through CITES, and with little conservation attention and funding, these animals can quickly move from ‘least concern’ to ‘endangered’, as highlighted in the recent United Nations global biodiversity report.
Through China’s Belt and Road initiative, the country has aggressively promoted TCM in recent years to capture a share of the industry’s $130 billion market, with new medical tourism hotspots established in dozens of cities in and outside of China. Many believe the rise of TCM is responsible for a surge in illegal wildlife trafficking, with the seizure of record volumes of threatened species in Hong Kong since the start of 2019, including scales from nearly 14,000 pangolins, and its largest shipment of rhino horns ever.
In October 2018, the Chinese Government reversed a 25-year ban on the use of tiger and rhino parts in TCM, but due to an overwhelming international outcry, the ban was temporarily reinstated. Yet recent reports suggest that China is succumbing to pressure from tiger breeders and farms by quietly creating loopholes allowing the continuation of the barbaric and senseless trade.
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