Chen Shilin, deputy director of the
Speaking at a seminar on traditional medicine in
Of these, he added, 169 are protected species, meaning trade in them is restricted under Chinese law.
Qin Minjian, a professor of traditional medicine at the
Demand for such medicines has grown by 300 per cent in the past decade. Last year, the sector's economic value grew by 15 per cent to 94.9 billion yuan (US$11.5 billion). Overseas demand for Chinese medicine has also risen. In 2003,
But the boost in demand has promoted environmental degradation. For example, large swathes of yew trees have been cut down because they are the raw material for an alcoholic beverage used as a cancer preventive medicine.
Qin told SciDev.Net that many valuable plants are found only in fragile habitats. What's more, says Qin, some of the plants are ecologically important to many other species and their disappearance would increase the risk to the rest.
According to Qin, this threat to
Measures to make traditional medicine sustainable, says Qin, include cultivating plants used in herbal remedies, restricting the exploitation of valuable species with potential for drug development, and identifying alternatives to medicines based on endangered species.
In recent years,
But Xiao Peigen, a retired professor of traditional Chinese medicine and former director of the
Comprehensive databases on wild herbal plants and animals should be established to assist regulation of species exploitation, and anyone collecting too much of any wild plant species should be severely punished, Xiao told last week's seminar.