Mainlanders' growing awareness of animal rights looks set to foil an initial public offering by Gui Zhen Tang Pharmaceutical, an operator of bear bile farms. The Fujian-based company has filed an IPO application with the provincial branch of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, seeking a listing on the ChiNext market of the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. A spokesman with the branch said yesterday the application was being reviewed and a decision had yet to be made. The application has already triggered a chorus of protests in the mainland media and online, charging Gui Zhen Tang with infringing animal rights. Investment bankers said the protests, if they became stronger, could force the regulator to kill the planned offering. The CSRC stipulates that companies whose business operations are against public interests are barred from launching IPOs. If the offering is rejected, it would be the first one on the mainland due to animal rights concerns. Concern group Animals Asia says bear bile farming is a cruel industry that involves bears being milked through crude holes cut into their abdomen wall and gall bladder. The wounds are deliberately left open, leaving the bears subject to bacterial infection and disease. Animals Asia said it found bears suffering from a range of ailments including liver cancer. Gui Zhen Tang declined to comment yesterday. It says on its website that bear bile, which it claims is a one-of-a-kind medicine, cannot be replaced by any other products. Such farming is legal on the mainland but the Ministry of Health issued a circular in 2001 saying it would not distribute any more licences for the business in order to protect wild animals. 'The business is legal but it's not reasonable for the company to be publicly traded,' said Davis Zhang, a retail investor in Shanghai. 'I will feel guilty buying the company's shares if it's listed.' Animals Asia has written a letter to the CSRC's Fujian branch, voicing concerns about the listing. The Nasdaq-style ChiNext market was created at the end of 2009 amid Beijing's efforts to bolster promising startups. 'It's great to see that there has been a groundswell of public opinions against bear bile farming,' said Jill Robinson, founder and chief executive of Animals Asia. 'This shows that the Chinese people are increasingly concerned about animal welfare issues and are making themselves heard through the internet.' The non-governmental foundation said there were more than 50 herbal alternatives to bear bile and that even traditional medicine practitioners were against its use. Robinson said the central government was also becoming increasingly aware of animal rights and her foundation was willing to offer any help to boost efforts against animal cruelty. The regulator's listing review committee rejected a record 65 companies last year, but most of the companies failed because of officials' suspicions about the sustainability of their profit growth.