Earthworms, believed to have important medicinal properties in traditional Chinese medicine, have always been traded on the black market.
But this little creature hiding in the dirt also plays an irreplaceable role in healing our planet, by improving soil quality, maintaining soil ecosystems and biodiversity.
Early last month, seven ministries and commissions (including the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, the State Forestry and Grassland Administration, the State Administration for Market Regulation, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the Ministry of Public Security, the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the State Food and Drug Administration) jointly issued the “Notice on Strengthening the Protection of Wild Earthworms and Improving the Soil Ecological Environment” (the Notice).
Liu Moujun is a dealer who buys earthworms in Weining County in Bijie, Guizhou Province. He offers equipment and helps local farmers to catch earthworms more efficiently. By putting on insulating rubber shoes first, and then inserting two metal rods on the ground at a distance of about 1 meter, turning on the electricity and waiting for two or three minutes, all the earthworms in the area will crawl out of the ground and can be easily captured.
After an investigation, Weining County Procuratorate ruled that Liu’s method of trapping earthworms has seriously damaged the soil ecosystem and biodiversity, harming the public interest.
The county procuratorate therefore suggested that more senior departments could initiate a civil public interest lawsuit.
The 8th Procuratorate of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate entrusted the School of Life Sciences of Peking University to issue an assessment on the loss of wildlife and damage caused to the local ecosystem by this case, and transferred it to the Bijie City Procuratorate as evidence for submission to the court.
The municipal procuratorate entrusted China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Association (CBCGDF) as a third-party identification agency to issue a report to calculate the loss of ecological resources caused by Liu.
It then filed a lawsuit with the Intermediate People’s Court of Bijie, which opened a public hearing on the case on Aug 26, and pronounced a verdict in support of all the prosecution’s claims.
The court ordered the defendant to immediately stop his illegal activities of capturing, purchasing, processing and selling wild earthworms or instigating villagers to engage in the above activities; to pay compensation of 177,390 yuan ($26,000) for the loss of wildlife, 38,655 yuan for damage to the local ecosystem, and 10,000 yuan for the appraisal fee in addition to making a public apology in the national media.
Local people’s congress deputies, CPPCC members, people’s supervisors, volunteers of NGOs, government officials from relevant departments and village representatives have been invited to attend the trial.
The judge explained the harm caused by Liu’s behavior: “the defendant adopted an extermination method for capturing earthworms, which led to the total disappearance of earthworms in the area, resulting in damage to the soil.”
He further pointed out that sustainable development has become a national policy. The pursuit of short-term economic benefits at the expense of environmental resources and sustainable development is not acceptable.
The Supreme People’s Procuratorate has launched operation “Earthworm Defense War” simultaneously in Guizhou, Jiangsu, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Zhejiang, Shanghai, Guangdong, and Beijing, aiming to promote the role of the legal system in environmental protection.