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Animal Welfare - Book Reviews

Animal Welfare vol 24 issue 1 Volume 30 
Issue 4
November 2021




Mao’s Bestiary: Medicinal Animals and Modern China

LPY Chee (2021). Published by Duke University Press, 905 W Main Street, Durham, NC 27701, USA. 288 pages Paperback (ISBN: 978-1478014041). Price £20.99.



The issue of animals in Chinese medicine, concedes the author of Mao’s Bestiary, has become increasingly “charged and controversial.” Liz PY Chee’s book comes to us at a critical point in recent history, at which we have been compelled to acknowledge how our interactions with other species have the potential to bring catastrophic consequences to lives and livelihoods everywhere. The role ascribed to the consumption of wild animals in the development of viruses behind SARS and the COVID-19 pandemic seems clear, even though the precise transmission routes between other species and humans are yet to be confirmed.

Through five concise and digestible chapters, Chee’s book explores the development of a distinctive Chinese state pharmaceutical sector, spanning chronologically the four decades following the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. The first chapter documents the early focus in ‘New China’ on drugs and their manufacture, and the emphasis given to materia medica itself as opposed to medical practice. Before the Sino-Soviet split of 1960, China looked to the Soviet Union as a model in many spheres, and Russian influence on Chinese medicine, wild animal farming and the use of animal tissue in drug development is explored in some depth in Chapter 2. The rise of medicinal animal farming which accompanied the Great Leap Forward from 1958 onwards is treated in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 addresses the impact of the years before and up to the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), characterised by a return to folk remedies and the emergence of novel and somewhat unorthodox animal therapies. The final chapter illustrates how from 1979 the reforms of economic liberalisation led by Deng Xiaoping and the opening up of the country saw the ascendancy of enterprise culture and market capitalism, and their explosive impact on the consumption of animal-derived medicines. The material is clearly expertly researched and includes a thorough Bibliography of works and articles mostly in Chinese which would ordinarily be difficult to access. The Glossary of Chinese terms, including political slogans of the period, is an essential addition. I noted some minor errors in transliteration but they by no means detract from the writing overall.

Although mention is made throughout of a range of species, including marine animals and invertebrates, a more detailed, species-focused case study features for roughly each decade of the period. Deer farming — predominantly for the harvesting of antlers — had its early roots in the 1930s, but only in the 1950s, under Russian influence, did it undergo an industrial-scale expansion. During the mid-1960s therapy involving the injection of chicken blood from live poultry directly into the human body made a brief, bizarre but very widespread appearance, whereas the Deng era saw the introduction of bear farming from North Korea, initially for the harvesting of bile. I feel that this case-study approach works well, as through each example the author brings out how developments in animal-based medicine reflected, to a great degree, the political and economic priorities of their time. The book also brings in the influences on Chinese medicine of Soviet medicine (eg organotherapy), ‘biomedicine’ — as Chee terms Western medicine — and also twentieth century developments in Japanese medicine.

Who would find Mao’s Bestiary interesting? Chee’s book will certainly appeal to anyone either formally studying or merely interested in contemporary China, whether from the perspectives of ethnography, political or social science, or of course history of medicine. Although this is clearly not a book about animal welfare, the subject matter will be useful to anyone involved in the fields of conservation or the global wildlife trade. If you are curious about China’s apparent preoccupation with the use of animals in human medicine, and where it comes from, there are some insights here. As a lifelong student of China and more latterly an animal welfare proponent, I thought the book was very engaging. In many places I found myself nodding in recognition of observations that tallied with my own experience and thinking, particularly about how animals are regarded in China. But I learned a lot in the detail, and there were some surprises.

We might be forgiven for thinking that China has a long and rich heritage of using all manner of animals and their parts in medicine, but this is quite an exaggeration. Chee points out that the most authoritative of historical texts, such as the Ming dynasty (16th century) Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica) contains reference to a mere 400 animal species, a small fraction compared to the entries on plants. By the 1970s this number had doubled and in the most recent (2013) official list of animal species used in medicine the total exceeds 2,300. Given the increasingly innovative use since the Mao era of animals and animal parts that were wholly absent from the early pharmacopeia, the widely applied blanket term TCM — ‘traditional Chinese medicine’ — is clearly worthy of much more critical scrutiny. The plethora of novel drugs and health supplements that have emerged since the 1950s could scarcely be described as ‘traditional’ in any real sense.

What comes through is China’s successful obfuscation of this rapid, modern expansion in animal use behind a cloak of history and tradition. Although the principles of animal-based remedies in China’s traditional medicine are, as we might expect, rooted in early history, the current extent — the breadth of species and animal parts involved — has much more recent origins. This proliferation can be attributed both to a calculated expansion of wildlife farming since the 1950s, and to the broader impact that has had on stimulating the global trade in wildlife.

The business of expanding and developing animal use in medicine very much followed directions framed by successive Five-Year Plans. During the Great Leap Forward, for example, the emphasis on innovation and experimentation, the search for new products and processes, stimulated the marked surge in the farming of wildlife. The book also highlights the importance of the Chinese diaspora as a vital market for medicinal exports, particularly in this early period when the country’s economy was underdeveloped and opportunities to bring in foreign exchange were eagerly sought.

Large-scale farming of wild animals in close confinement is of course apt to be accompanied by increasingly compromised animal welfare. The author makes reference to suffering mainly in the latter chapters, particularly in addressing the emergence and growth of perhaps the most internationally notorious of practices, the farming in narrow cages of bears for their bile, and especially the painful extraction techniques involved. Indeed, it is her experience of witnessing bear farming that inspired Chee to pursue the subject of animals in medicine.

Throughout the book we detect a strong utilitarian theme, with wild animals in China seen very much as a mere resource. The Wildlife Protection Law — first passed in 1988 with the most recent revision in 2018 — reflects this view: if animals are to be protected it is so that they can be ‘rationally used.’ And while the current leadership has embodied the protection of the environment, habitats and biodiversity in China in the concept of ‘ecological civilisation’, in practice this phrase does little to diminish the underlying imperative of ‘rational use.’

What we find with the 1980s industrialisation of wild animal farming is the realisation of their value in their entirety as ‘economic animals.’ Deer farmed originally for their antlers later became the source of a range of products processed from other body parts, blood, sinew etc. New learning arose around captive breeding, nutrition and rearing of tigers, musk deer, civet cats, as well as various reptiles and amphibians.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the explosion in farmed wild animal numbers simply led to a growing supply without a corresponding demand. As stockpiles of animal material grew, new products were developed and marketed. In the drive to maximise profit, these animals began to be put to uses that were almost always far removed from any historical or traditional medical application. In most cases animal ingredients were processed, synthesised and packaged into modern methods of delivery — powders, pills, capsules, lotions and injections — which in the minds of most Chinese put them on a par with biomedical drugs. More recently, the designation of many animal-based innovations as health supplements, as opposed to medicinals, enabled enterprising manufacturers to circumvent state regulation around drugs. A host of novel health tonics, wine, medicinal foods, snacks, even personal care products (bear bile shampoo?) followed, intended to utilise the whole animal, nose to tail. Claims of efficacy for these products do not have to be explicit. My own impression is that, for many Chinese, vague association with tradition will suffice, along with the apparent belief on the part of most consumers that none of these products is likely to be harmful.

An enduring feature of Chinese medicine which has only become more exaggerated in recent years is the belief that ‘like cures like’, that is that ingesting preparations made from particular organs from an animal will have a therapeutic effect on the corresponding part of the human patient’s body. Sexual organs of the tiger, deer and other species are therefore famously thought to be suitable as treatment for sexual dysfunction, or simply to boost male potency or libido.

Historically, the use of animal parts in Chinese medicine has almost always been very precise and narrow — particular organs from certain species, prepared according to exact methods and prescribed for a range of specific ailments. The efficacy of those drugs which genuinely have historical pedigree is taken as given, to the extent that practitioners and patients, consumers and retailers alike do not even need to discuss with each other what a particular drug is good for. Their effectiveness is sanctioned by generations of ancestral knowledge and practice.

Chee also refers to efforts to manufacture substitutes for products derived from threatened species. This was done in some cases by isolating active ingredients in the raw material, for example ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) in bear bile, which was later commercially synthesised from chickens and pigs. Many Chinese medicine practitioners, however, reject this approach on the grounds that drugs produced from bear bile consist of much more than a single active ingredient, and that their complexity works on the human body along a multitude of pathways. This position leads to the imperative that bears continue to be farmed for their bile — there is, in the minds of many, no substitute for the original substance.

Why did China turn to large-scale farming of wildlife during the modern era? The drivers were in the main economic and included the encouragement of wildlife farming in rural areas as a poverty alleviation measure. Another factor is that hunting animals in the wild is difficult, inefficient and has driven many species towards extinction, and the argument that captive breeding or farming of, say, deer, tigers, black bears etc, benefits the conservation of populations in the wild. There is plenty of evidence that the contrary is true — that the existence of a farmed product creates added cachet for its original, more ‘authentic’, wild counterpart, and therefore increases pressure on animals in the wild. The high value of many wildlife products, whether obtained legally or not, also cements their significance as luxury gifts.

Mao’s Bestiary shines a useful spotlight on a hitherto rarely explored area and in doing so gives us access to some obscure source material. The book is a modest attempt to cover a truly vast topic. It left me with a much clearer understanding of just how the seeds of modern China’s use of animals in medicine were sown in the early years and made me curious to pursue the subject further.

Paul Littlefair,
Head of International, RSPCA, UK

Measuring Behaviour: An Introductory Guide, Fourth Edition

M Bateson and P Martin (2021). Published by Cambridge University Press, Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge BB2 8BS, UK. 238 pages Hardback (ISBN:  978-1108745727). Price £27.99.




A lot of animal behaviour researchers have grown up with previous editions of Measuring Behaviour as their go-to book for advice on techniques and ideas for appropriate methods for quantifying what their subject species is doing. The latest (and fourth) edition of this excellent handbook will no doubt become a staple on the bookshelves of many more students (and established researchers); this time with Professor Melissa Bateson taking on the mantle from her father, Sir Patrick Bateson. This edition has been updated, and new areas added, resulting in an increase in pages since the third edition in 2007, from 176 to 238 pages.

Because this is a well-known publication, I have tried in this short review to concentrate on the subjects added to the book, which relates to developments in techniques, and the inclusion of humans as the subject for study, as well as ethical aspect of behavioural research.

This latest edition has a much nicer flow to it, with the introduction easy to read, and a more logical re-organisation of the different chapters, many of which have been given new headings and sub-headings. For example, a discussion on potential floor and ceiling effects when collecting behavioural data has been moved from the chapter on ‘Interpreting findings’ in the previous edition to the chapter on ‘Measurement quality’ in this edition. Previously, we were presented with Tinbergen’s four questions in the Introduction, whereas the current edition places them in the chapter on ‘Choosing a research question’, where they fit far more aptly.

A new and daring chapter entitled ‘Science and truth’ offers a fresh view on the nitty gritty of our métier and the theory of science. It includes a whole section on the ‘Replication crisis’, which is highly relevant — and not only to behavioural research. And the chapter on ‘Designing a behavioural study’ (Chapter 4) should be compulsory reading for all students of applied animal behaviour, as well as their supervisors.

If, like me, you have been using one of the previous editions of Measuring Behaviour in your studies, teaching, and supervision, I can highly recommend upgrading to the fourth edition. This may be best illustrated by the chapter on ‘Recording technology’, containing an up-to-date (as far as that is possible) description of various techniques available for automatic tracking of behaviour, as well as how to code your collected data into usable form — but it also explains the use of old-fashioned check-sheets, which may still be relevant in some situations. In comparison, the previous edition was largely limited to video-recordings, check-sheets, and event-recorders. The fourth edition contains many new illustrations, and the few that are reused from previous editions have been updated and redrawn. Useful information can be found throughout, and the revised chapters on data analysis, and interpretation of findings contain guides on common statistical mistakes, and how to write a scientific paper.

Overall, this is a highly useful book for anyone working in or around applied behavioural research. The use of numbered references makes the chapters easier to read, but it also would have been useful to have an alphabetically ordered reference list. However, if that is the only issue I can find for improvement, it bodes well. So, in summary, make sure this latest (and much renewed) edition of Measuring Behaviour becomes part of the library in your behavioural lab.

Birte L Nielsen, UFAW, Wheathampstead, UK

Pigs: Welfare in Practice

I Camerlink (2020). Published by 5m Publishing, 8 Smithy Wood Drive, Sheffield S35, 1QN, UK. 166 pages Paperback (ISBN: 978-1789181050). Price £14.95.




This compact volume is part of the 5m Publishing ‘Welfare in Practice’ series of short, practical books on the welfare of farmed animals. As described by the publishers, “The series covers what is currently known about the welfare requirements of specific animal species and how to put this into practice.” The book is aimed primarily at farmers, stockworkers and animal handlers, with scientists and students (and smallholders) only a secondary audience, and this makes it rather different to many reference volumes used by animal welfare scientists.

The book is edited by Irene Camerlink, with Xavier Manteca as the series editor. Each chapter, and many of the individual sections within chapters, has its own author leading to an extensive list of almost fifty contributors from across the world. Many of these will be familiar to researchers and readers of textbooks about farm animal and pig welfare, and about farming economics. The vast majority of the authors are based in Western countries and more developed regions, primarily Europe and North America. While the book aims for international applicability, most of the cost and price examples are given in GBP and euros, which may suggest a somewhat Eurocentric bias.

The contents are divided into four sections: the first, ‘Understanding pig welfare’, introduces the concept of animal welfare and gives an overview of the main issues related to pig welfare across the world. The second, ‘Making the business case for animal welfare’, discusses the economic benefits of improving animal welfare and includes examples of cost-benefit analysis applied to tail damage, gilt rearing and farrowing systems. The third section, ‘Assessing animal welfare’, covers welfare indicators including ‘iceberg’ indicators (those showing the ‘tip of the iceberg’, revealing greater problems underneath), the Welfare QualityÒ assessment protocol, qualitative behaviour assessment, the use of apps and Precision Livestock Farming. The final section, ‘What you can do to improve animal welfare?’, discusses strategies available to improve pig welfare on-farm, in relation to human-animal interactions and environmental enrichment, and includes a chapter on each age and stage of pigs: piglets; weaning to fattening; gestating sows; lactating sows; cull sows and boars, as well as a discussion of gilt selection and rearing. Chapters 2, 3 and 4 each conclude with a section (using tables and scoring sheets) on how to apply the information to the reader’s own pig herd, marked by a symbol indicating farm assessment sections, and there are instructions on how to design a step-wise action plan to improve pig welfare. These suggestions are, as described in the Introduction, based on repeated scientific studies and testing under commercial conditions; although a caution is offered that there are no guarantees of particular strategies being effective in all situations and readers are advised to consult their veterinarian for expert advice if in doubt.

International applicability of the book is enhanced by a chapter on ‘A global understanding of animal welfare’ that comprises sections on animal welfare and how it is affected by production systems, legislation, traditions, beliefs and consumer trends in Europe, North America and Canada, South America, Asia and Africa. As sub-sections of a short book these are necessarily fairly brief, which limits their coverage of specific countries within the continents. For example, the section on Europe concentrates on European Union countries rather than the continent as a whole. Also, while most of the regional descriptions focus on pig welfare specifically, the fascinating account of religious and cultural attitudes to animal welfare in Asia concentrates on animals in general rather than pigs in particular, and the section about Australia is similarly broad.

What’s good about the book? Firstly, it is quite short (166 pages including Appendices and Index), affordable (available from around £15), quick to read and search for information. It brings together the most recent research and application on a multitude of aspects of pig welfare, and there is a helpful focus throughout on what farmers can do to enhance and improve their pigs’ welfare, rather than only a theoretical evaluation of the issues. For the most part, the language and level of detail is carefully aimed at the intended audience (referring to ‘your pigs’, for example, and defining scientific and technical terms). The book does a good job overall of explaining quite complex science in a simple and straightforward way, starting with the helpful chapter on ‘Understanding pig welfare’ that, among other things, explains the differences and relationships between animal performance, animal health and animal welfare.

However, there are a few drawbacks. Firstly, as expected from a short book, it lacks detail, meaning that those wanting to know more about a subject would need to also consult more detailed and in-depth scientific texts. Also, while some chapters include a few references, others have none, and the amount of citations and references is far fewer than would be found in a scientific journal article or standard textbook. This may frustrate readers wanting to know more about a particular subject, finding a mention within the book of ‘a scientific study’ but not being given any more details such as where the study was done, when, or by whom. This inconsistency also extends to the tone of the writing: while some chapters are carefully aimed at the producer, others read more like abbreviated versions of academic texts. This means that, in places, a little more detail and explanation would have been useful, for example, at the start of the first chapter the term ‘affective states’ is used in relation to animals’ subjective feelings. While this phrase is likely to be familiar to scientists and scholars of animal welfare, farmers would benefit from a brief definition. Finally, and in relation to the fine detail of the book, there are two small irritations: photographic illustrations are integrated throughout, but these are all in black and white and many are very small, which limits their value and can make it difficult for the reader to see what is being illustrated. Also, in a (very) few places, the book would have benefited from a slightly more thorough proof-reading to eliminate mistakes such as missing words and, in one case, table columns being out of synch with the rows.

As a suggestion for a future second edition, the editors might consider including some pig producers as chapter and section contributors in addition to scientists and academics, since farmers are likely to understand best how to write for an audience of their peers. Overall, though, Pigs Welfare in Practice is a good book; informative, helpful and likely to achieve its aim of assisting producers in understanding more about the welfare of their pigs and using this knowledge to improve their welfare. It may also be useful for students and scientists who want a quick reference to the most up-to-date knowledge to use as a basis for locating more detailed information.

Moira Harris,
Shrewsbury, UK

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