A few months ago I wrote a column criticising China's dog trade in no uncertain terms.

Or at least, I thought it had been in no uncertain terms, but chew me down if the Facebook friends of a well-known local dog rescuer didn't manage to take "stop China's evil dog trade" as "China's dog trade is great and everybody should torture dogs to death three times a day".

I saw the comments on that person's Facebook post and they were mostly along the lines of "This woman is sick!", "She is worse than the dog traders!" and (watch out, my editor) "I'll never buy the SCMP again!"

See? That's what happens when you try to use irony as a tool. It never works.

I tell you another thing that's ironic: China's bear-bile trade.

What's that, you ask. I wouldn't have known either if it hadn't been for the indefatigable Jill Robinson and her staff at the Animals Asia charity.

Bear bile is a component in certain Chinese medicines and is used as an anti-inflammatory.

Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese all used to kill bears for their gall bladders, making these animals a very expensive commodity. Then they realised it would be more profitable to have the bile on tap, so to speak, all year round.

Today, more than 10,000 Asiatic bears, or moon bears (so called because they have a pale, crescent-shaped marking on their chests), are languishing on farms in mainland China, being "milked" for their bile. Their mothers killed in front of them, they are normally taken as cubs and put into a cage, which they "grow into" until they can't move.

There are many ways to extract bile and all are excruciatingly painful. Most often, a catheter is jammed into the gall bladder, so bile steadily drips out.

Some bears spend 30 years like this. Underfed and dehydrated, they often wear their teeth down to the open nerve trying to eat their way out of their cages. Their bodies, inside and out, are full of suppurating sores and many chew their own paws off, mad with boredom and pain.

And here's the irony - ironies, really. Because of the infections the animals suffer and the unhygienic extraction process, the bile is mixed with all sorts of bacteria that can make you ill. And the active ingredients in bear bile can easily be produced synthetically.

Animals Asia has rescued more than 500 bears which, once healed, live out their lives happily in sanctuaries in the mainland and Vietnam.

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