A senior mainland wildlife official has spoken out in favour of bear farming, just a week after a Hong Kong group said it had forged a deal with Beijing that it hoped would end the practice. Dr Fan Zhiyong, the official in charge of managing the mainland's obligations under Cites, the Convention on International Trading in Endangered Species, argued bear farming could help stop bear hunting. Dr Fan denied reports in the British press that he had called for the ban on international trading in Asian bear parts to be lifted to meet demand in Japan and South Korea. But he said Beijing might in future apply under the convention to end the ban. 'I can only say that under the present situation, bear farming can help lessen the pressure on the hunting of wild [black] bears for their bile,' he said. Trading bear bile within China is legal and demand is therefore 'an unchangeable fact', Dr Fan said. 'When there's a demand, it must be met one way or another. The question is whether there is a better solution,' he said. His remarks come a week after the Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation signed an agreement with forestry officials from Sichuan province and experts from the government-affiliated China Wildlife Conservation Association to release 500 captive bears to a sanctuary within five years. It also aims to eliminate bear farming on the mainland. Reacting to Dr Fan's comments, foundation founder and head Jill Robinson insisted: 'I am not really concerned at all. We have to accept that some officials and bear farmers don't want to end the practice. But the official was speaking from a personal view, which isn't representative of the central Government's policy.' Ms Robinson said she had been assured by mainland officials that they were not considering changes or backing down from the agreement. About 7,000 bears are kept at 247 farms across the mainland. Many are confined to undersized cages while farmers 'milk' bile from their gall bladders. The bile is highly prized in oriental medicine but animal activists and Chinese medicine doctors say it can be replaced with herbal and synthetic alternatives.