Why Do the Chinese Farm Cockroaches?

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Last month, one million cockroaches (and that’s the “conservative estimate”) escaped from a roach ranch in China’s Jiangsu province after a vandal destroyed the nursery that the bugs are bred in. 

One million cockroaches, or more, just crawling around doing whatever they want and being gross. Yuck. If I see one roach, I’m ready for nuclear missiles to rain down over everything. Why would anyone want to keep a million of them around?

Because some people think they're good for what ails them. Decades ago, physician and medical professor Li Shunan was traveling in the Dali region of the Yunnan province and met several older people who used cockroaches as a treatment for tuberculosis. They ground the exoskeletons up and mixed the powder with oil, and then either consumed the mixture or rubbed it on their skin.

Today, “roach powder” is an in-demand item for practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine and is used to treat “blood stasis,” cuts and bruises, broken bones, cirrhosis and cancer. Some patients even claim it helps them maintain a youthful appearance. The powder is a big business, commanding almost $90 a pound, and roach ranches have popped up all over the country to get some of that sweet bug money and satiate a demand that wild-caught roaches can’t meet on their own.

Getting your start in roach ranching isn’t hard. They take up a lot less room than, say, cattle, and one Chinese how-to site suggests that you can fit the set-up to raise them in your bathroom or balcony with room to spare. You have to be able to stomach the livestock escaping, though.