A few thoughts and reflections...
On July 18, 2008, the Texas State Bar Association's Animal Law Section held its annual CLE seminar, the 8th Annual Animal Law Institute at the South Texas College of Law. I was honored to be asked to be a presenter at the conference (even though I am - as moderator and section chair Dena Fisher observed - a Yankee, and it was - as I observed - easily 98 degrees in Houston that day...).
Jests aside, the conference offered a terrific spectrum of topics: from starting an animal law practice to the nuances of dangerous dog defense to the ethics of animal patenting. Moreover, the presenters on these topics showcased the whole spectrum of experience: from enthusiastic newcomer Yolanda Eisenstein, to Texas staple Don Feare, to one of the field's icons, ALDF founder Joyce Tischler.
But the segment that moved me the most was the talk by AnimalsAsia General Counsel Tamara Bond on the bile farming of bears in China. During Tamara's talk, I happened to be sitting in the back row with Yolanda and Don. We were probably an odd sight, although I doubt anyone noticed us - the attorneys in the back of the room alternating between wincing and dabbing at our eyes. The presentation held everyone in stunned, revulsed silence. (And Tamara wasn't particularly trying to be maudlin.)
I must admit that prior to the conference I had heard of bile farming, but knew few specifics about it. From what little I knew, it seemed as cruel and needless as the farming of any other factory animal. But I think now that I was wrong. Because as horrible as it must be to be a factory farmed hog - or a hen confined to a battery cage - or a veal calf ripped from its mother and stuffed into a cage too small to turn around - or even a goose being force-fed to the point of bursting - it all pales in comparison to spending as much as twenty years in nearly motionless caged confinement, sometimes with teeth filed or digits amputated to prevent any resistance whatsoever, and "milked" daily through crude, often filthy catheters or even by simply open holes in their abdomens.
I am generally a big believer in sanitizing cruelty issues enough so that the general public will not turn away in disgust before learning (and hopefully developing some empathy) about the issue. But there's just no way to sanitize this. This was disgusting. Moreover, here in the 21st century, with the availability of all sorts of substitutes and synthetics, the idea that the only way to respect a native culture is to tolerate their traditional medicinal production, is simply untenable.
If you have the time - and the internal fortitude - click here to learn more about the remarkable efforts of this one advocacy group. Kudos to AnimalsAsia for its tenacity in the face of long odds and nightmarishly disturbing work.