Labeling Act to Protect Rhinos and Tigers

by AdamRoberts

When former Massachusetts Congressman Gerry Studdscalled for House consideration of the "Rhinoceros and Tiger ConservationAct" on September 27, 1994, he noted that he introduced the bill "outof concern over the senseless slaughter of these magnificent creaturesby poachers to satisfy the demand for rhino and tiger parts in orientalmedicines." The bill was unanimously passed. While the demand forproducts containing these highly endangered species still exists, so, too,does Congressional concern for their protection.

This legislative regard for rhinos and tigers recently led the US Houseof Representatives to approve the reauthorization of the Rhinoceros andTiger Conservation Act through the year 2004. The law gives the Secretaryof Interior authority to select and fund projects around the globe whichwill contribute to the long-term viability of these fragile species.

On April 28, the House also approved a separate bill, H.R. 2807, "TheRhino and Tiger Product Labeling Act." This bill would ensure thatno person may import, export, or sell within the United States "anyproduct, item, or substance intended for human consumption containing orpurporting to contain any substance derived from any species of rhinocerosor tiger."

The tiger and all species of rhinoceros except the South African WhiteRhino are listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Tradein Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As such, internationalcommercialization of their parts and products is prohibited. Enforcementof this trade restriction is complicated, however, when products claimto contain rhino or tiger, but actually may not. It is difficultand expensive for customs agents to confiscate and reliably analyze suchproducts and determine conclusively that they originate from these endangeredspecies.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, testifying before Congress on behalfof the legislation, noted: "Once these products reachthe United States even when their labels blatantly claim that the itemscontain rhino or tiger parts -- the burden of proof is still on the Serviceto demonstrate scientifically whether the products contain what the labelsays.

"This is a time-consuming and expensive process. Forensics expertsestimate a cost of up to $ 100,000 to develop a DNA analysis test to identifyany particular group of wildlife, such as all rhinos or all tigers, andthe process would only work if DNA markers had not been destroyed whenthe product was manufactured. For example, if a product reported to containtiger bone has been heated to high temperatures during compounding, a DNAanalysis test could not be conclusive. The only substance which could beconfirmed is the presence of calcium, an ingredient just as likely to representcow bone and tiger bone." H.R.2807 would prevent the importation andmarketing of such medicines and other products, thus facilitating enforcementof important wildlife laws.

This legislation is especially important given the current demand (especiallyfor tiger bone products) in Asian communities throughout the United Statesand other major cities around the world. In 1997, the Environmental InvestigationAgency (EIA) set out to assess availability of tiger parts in London, Glasgow,Japan, Amsterdam, and New York.

In the United Kingdom, legislation currently prohibits sale of endangeredspecies and products that claim to contain endangered species. It Is notsurprising to note that EIA's investigation into six London pharmaciesand supermarkets and eight Glasgow pharmacies uncovered no instances oftiger bone products offered for sale.

However, a telephone survey of 30 Chinese pharmacies in Tokyo and Yokohamarevealed that 20 admitted to offering products which purported to containtiger bone. This is an almost twenty percent increase since a similar surveywas undertaken in 1995. In Amsterdam, five out of six stores visited hadtiger bone available. And a survey in NewYork's Chinatown found that aremarkable 14 out of 17 pharmacies and supermarkets entered had productsclaiming to contain tiger parts.

This astounding availability in New York was confirmed in a new studyby the Wildlife Conservation Society which reveals that during a six-monthinvestigation in New York, of the 37 shops surveyed, "67 percent...contained at least one product" that claimed to contain tiger parts.The report also notes that "all of the products... were manufacturedin China" especially ironic since this is the Chinese Year of theTiger.

When the House Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife andOceans held a hearing on these bills February 5, Dr. Lixing Laoof the American College of Traditional Medicine, concluded his remarksby pleading with the subcommittee to " do whatever is in the scopeof the committee and of your individual offices to help make this a Yearfor the Tiger." Part of that goal must focus on education and eliminationof the demand for these unacceptable products.

The subcommittee staff briefing document for the hearing referencesCITES data which notes: "South Korea has imported about 10,500pounds of tiger bone in the last six years. During the same period,China reportedly exported more than 78 tons of tiger bones, which representsabout 5,600 tigers or more than what is alive today." SecretaryBabbitt added during his testimony that "three of the recognized subspeciesof tigers have become extinct, and the remaining five species have comeunder severe threat." Babbitt further said that "to break thecycle of poaching and illegal trade which has devastated so many rhinoand tiger populations, we must also work to break supply lines and removerhino and tiger products from the marketplace."

It can not be a unilateral effort by the United States, however. AllParties to CITES must invest heavily in rhino and tiger conservation andthe removal of endangered species products from all store shelves. TheParties to CITES decided last summer that the CITES Standing Committeeshall examine tiger-trade issues "with a view to identifying, on acountry-by-country basis, additional legislative and enforcement measuresthat may be necessary to stop the illegal trade in tigers and tiger partsand derivatives." The Rhino and Tiger Conservation Act and ProductLabeling Act are two important steps toward ending this disastrous trade.Other nations should enact similar laws to save the rhino and tiger forall future generations.

AWI Quarterly Winter 1998, Volume 47 Number 1, p. 8

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