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Bear bile farming and bile extraction from Asiatic black bears will be banned in South Korea from 1st January 2026, as the South Korean Ministry of Environment and the Bear Farmers Association have signed an agreement to phase out this horrible industry.

The local animal protection organisation Green Korea United and others have been campaigning for this ban since 2003. They first sterilised the bears so no more were born into the industry, and they managed to get a ban to extract bile from live bears. But it is still legal to kill the animals to remove their whole gall bladder for use in Traditional Asian medicine. However, with this agreement signed on 26th of January 2022, both signatories have agreed that this practice will also be illegal from 2026, ending this industry once and for all. 

Kyoungsun Woo, Co-Director of Green Korea United, said: “The agreement to end the bear bile farming industry is the outcome of a joint effort from those citizens who pursued their interest in this issue and participated in the rescue campaigns. We urge the Ministry of Environment to stop being reactive and come forward using today’s declaration to mark the beginning of the end to this industry. The Ministry of Environment should be proactive and take action to ensure that the shelters for the bears to be built in Gurye and Seocheon will play their role as the national facilities to safely protect the remaining bears left on the farms.”

Maya Pastakia, Global Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection, another organisation that has worked for this ban, said: “Captive bile bears are cruelly exploited and commodified. They live out their lives in tiny, cramped cages, enduring immense mental and physical suffering – unable to climb trees, play and forage for food as they would in the wild. The South Korean government has taken a bold stand for bears – something made all the more impactful by the Bear Farmers Association and animal welfare organisations joining hands and taking this momentous decision.” 

Around 1,400 bears were kept in the Korean bile bear industry in the mid-2000s, but after the sterilisation programme, the captive bear population declined by 75%. Today, there are still 360 bears remaining on farms, 119 of which will be taken to the government’s two new shelters in Guyre-gun and Seocheon-gun.