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Authorities in China are trying to make traditional medicine more sustainable. Strategies include promoting alternatives to products from endangered species and using medicine-labelling rules that set quotas for ingredients from rare plants and wildlife.

Companies using such products in medicines must disclose their ingredients to, and seek approval from, the State Food and Drug Administration and the State Forestry Administration, reports Chen Zhiyong in these two China Daily articles.

These authorities aim to limit the use of such ingredients by issuing a fixed number of medicine labels, which companies must display on authorised products.

Of 295 traditional remedies assessed, 60 contain musk, a substance produced by male musk deer from a gland in their abdomen. In half of these, the deer musk has now been replaced with a synthetic alternative approved in March 2004.

The threatened deer's population fell from three million in the 1960s to 250,000 in the early 1990s, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Another threatened species, the Saiga antelope, has not been seen in China since the 1960s and has declined by 95 per cent worldwide in the past decade. Its horn is used in traditional remedies such as those for colds and high blood pressure.

The search is on for alternatives — whether synthetic or from non-threatened species such as goats.

Some traditional medicine specialists warn, however, that changing such an important ingredient might make medicines less effective.

Link to full China Daily story on labelling

Link to full China Daily story on Saiga antelope

Read more about indigenous knowledge in SciDev.Net's indigenous knowledge dossier.