China is easing its ban on trading tiger bones and rhino horns, allowing it when it’s being used for “medicine.” But there’s one problem with that: those items aren’t medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) often uses unproven methods to “treat” illnesses, but more often than not the methods rely on the placebo effect to actually “work.” Many of the items used in TCM also damage the environment and the ecosystem.
Rhinos and tigers are both endangered, and China has banned their trade since 1993, according to BBC.
In a statement announcing the replacement of the 25-year old ban, the State Council said powdered forms of rhino horn and bones from dead tigers could be used in “qualified hospitals by qualified doctors”.
The animal products can only be obtained from farms, it said.
Parts from those animals classified as “antiques” could be used in cultural exchanges if approved by the cultural authorities, the statement adds.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a statement that the move would have “devastating consequences” and be an “enormous setback” to efforts to protect the animals in the wild.
“Even if restricted to antiques and use in hospitals, this trade would increase confusion by consumers and law enforcers as to which products are and are not legal, and would likely expand the markets for other tiger and rhino products,” WWF said.
The harm caused to animals by superstitions, and superstitious people, is something I’ve written about at length. Most recently, I explained in No Sacred Cows that rhino horn is used in TCM to “treat” fever, rheumatism, gout, snakebites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, and even “devil possession.”
Rhino poaching hasn’t been curtailed by the prevalence of data in the information age, which makes scientific evidence showing the inefficacy of rhino horn readily available. In fact, in 2012, a record number of 668 rhinos were killed across South Africa. There is a thriving illegal market for rhino horn despite the fact that claims made about it—including all “medicinal” uses and the assertion that the horn is an aphrodisiac—are completely and demonstrably false. This is primarily because not enough people value the scientific findings involved. The information is there, but it’s not being absorbed.
Tigers in India and China are also killed due to the fictitious belief that their bones can treat rheumatism, arthritis, and impotence, despite the fact that these alleged cures have never been shown scientifically. Rhinos and tigers are just two of the many nonhuman animals harmed by our false beliefs, and we see incredibly similar situations when it comes to use of antelope and buffalo horns, deer antlers, and other items in TCM.
TCM will never completely go away, but it’s important to protect our endangered wildlife and to understand the importance of looking at scientific data. These populations could be wiped out due to pseudoscientific beliefs, and we can’t let that happen.
Yours in Reason,