A new law in China makes it illegal to eat members of an endangered species, a major step forward in protections for wild animals. However, animal rights activists claim the legislation doesn’t go far enough, because it fails to address other threats. Captive breeding, public performances, and consumption in non-food products (i.e. traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM) are still allowed under the new law, and conservationists argue that these uses are what motivates the largest portion of endangered species poaching.
China’s new law specifically bans the sale of food products made from endangered species recognized by the state government. Writing for The Shanghaiist, Robin Winship said that “simply restricting the sale of endangered animals as food, while nice and all, does not nearly suffice” when it comes to protecting those animals. In this way, China’s wildlife policies are not unlike its environmental protection efforts, which are criticized widely for being too soft to resolve very real problems.
Because the law doesn’t address breeding and medicinal uses of endangered animal parts, many animals will continue to be bred and killed for use in TCM. For instance, stomach bile from bears is used in elixirs, despite a total absence of scientific evidence of any human benefit. In order to collect the bile, bears are bred in captivity, forced to live in cramped cages, and the animals often die from botched surgical attempts to extract their bile. Meanwhile, rhinoceros horns are also highly sought after, to be ground to a powder and used to treat a variety of ailments, again without any evidence that the treatment works. Many other animals are carved up for so-called medicinal purposes, with plenty of other endangered species bred as exotic pets or to be killed for some other senseless reason, like fashion.
There are a lot of unanswered questions about how the new law will be enforced, considering the difficulties (or perhaps impossibilities) of identifying whether an animal is being sold as a food ingredient or for medical purposes, or whether an animal was wild-caught or captive bred. Without implementing clear procedures for permits or licensing for legal uses, China’s government may have just passed a law it can’t possibly enforce.