Homeopathy, the elaborate placebo system, is having a rough time in 2011. While homeopathic products are deemed “safe and effective” by Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate, the awareness that homeopathic products contain no active ingredients and have no medicinal effects is becoming more well known. Here’s a roundup of what’s happening worldwide:
Two class action lawsuits have now been filed against homeopathy manufacturer Boiron. Boiron is being sued in California for fraud and unfair competition over their product Coldcalm. (A summary of the product can be found here). Here’s the case [PDF]. The intro summarizes the plaintiff’s argument:
Defendants are defrauding Californians by claiming that a tablet called “Children’s Coldcalm” pellets will provide relief from: sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, sinus pain, headaches, and sore throat.
These assertions would be welcomed by many if they were accurate, but the claims are absolutely false. The product is nothing more than a sugar tablet. Plaintiff brings this lawsuit to enjoin ongoing deceptions and to recover the profits generated by the false and misleading claims.
Boiron has attempted to quash this action, but that has been thrown out.
A second class action lawsuit has been filed against Boiron, this time for their product Oscilliococconium. The full document is here. Some highlights:
From the advertising done by Defendants regarding Oscillo, it would appear to be the perfect product to combat the flu. According to Defendants, Oscillo will take care of the flu within 48 hours with no possibility of any side effects or drug interactions and without making the patient drowsy. … Unfortunately, Defendants fail to inform consumers of the truth regarding Oscillo and its purported active ingredient. The truth is that the listed active ingredient in Oscillo, Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum, is neither active in combating the flu nor is it actually an ingredient in Oscillo. Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum is a fancy way for Defendants to hide the truth from the general public. The truth being that Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum is actually Muscovy Duck Liver and Heart.
Defendants claim that the active ingredient in Oscillo, Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum, is diluted to 200CK. This dilution indicates that for every part of Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum in Oscillo, there is 1^399 parts of the inactive ingredient, sugar. Written out in long form, this results in a ratio of
1:10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
Both of these lawsuits will be interesting to watch. Can legal action force homeopathy manufacturers to make clear, unambiguous statements about the contents and efficacy of their products?
Also in the United States, a group of veterinarians that practice homeopathy is suing the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) over their decision to refuse continuing education credits for the group’s conference. Brennen McKenzie, a veterinarian who blogs at Science-Based Medicine, made the following observation:
Alternative medicine providers are often better at treating psychological aspects of a medical incident an owner is dealing with, and there’s no doubt they are caring and compassionate, but it’s just not scientific. This lawsuit is just a way for AVH to sway RACE to approving CE without proving their medicine through science. This is a marginal approach to veterinary medicine and these therapies are not taught in veterinary schools.
Of note the European Board of Veterinary Specialties also does not allow CE credits for homeopathy.
Boiron is using bully tactics in Italy and is threatening legal action an Italian blogger regarding blog comments he made about Oscillococcinum, claiming such posts are “defamatory”. Here’s his blog, translated into English. In yet another example of the Streisand Effect, this has created significant media interest and traffic to the site. See Steven Novella’s post at Science-Based Medicine for more on this case. There’s also an interesting discussion here, including some comments from the blogger in question, on the merits of Boiron’s action.
In response to Boiron’s action, the Center For Inquiry has issued a bold challenge: Boiron, Please Sue Us:
Boiron lists the purported active ingredient for Oscillococcinum on its package. Because both CFI and CSI unambiguously assert that Boiron’s stated claim that “Anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum 200CK HPUS” is an “active” ingredient is false and deceptive, we invite Boiron to take us to court in the United States. (For those not up on Latin and homeopathic verbiage, “Anas barbarie.” etc. is duck liver and heart—which, as indicated, is then diluted to or near the point of nonexistence.)
We are inviting Boron to litigate not because we think their suit might have merit; quite to the contrary, such a suit would have absolutely no merit. If sued in any American court, we are confident we will prevail. Homeopathy has no scientific basis. Instead, we are inviting litigation because we do not believe Boron should be able to silence critics by picking on isolated bloggers.
If Boiron has confidence in its product, then it will take us up on this invitation. If not, then we will have further confirmation that Boiron does not have the evidence to support the claims that it makes for its product.
The Health Ministry’s pharmaceutical division will prevent further TV advertising of an unregistered homeopathic preparation, called Traumeel, that makes illegal therapeutic claims. According to the law, only registered drugs can claim to provide medical benefits.
Packages of homoeopathic preparations sold in pharmacies must by law carry a printed disclaimer stating “This is a homeopathic preparation without an approved medical indication; This product is approved by the Health Ministry only from the safety aspect.” The disclaimer is required, Haran said, “because homeopathy’s medical efficacy has not been proven scientifically as are registered medications.” The TV ads did not bear any disclaimers, yet the product’s presenters claimed they treated medical conditions effectively.
Earlier this year, the Advertising Standard Agency (ASA) began regulating web web advertisements. Consequently, hundreds of complaints were made about UK-based homeopaths and vendors of homeopathy. The Agency recently responded, indicating that homeopaths are no longer permitted to indicate that their products are effective:
We’ve told marketers of homeopathic treatments and services about whom we’ve received a complaint to remove marketing claims that refer to, or imply, the efficacy of homeopathy for treating or helping specific health conditions. This is because the ASA considers there is insufficient robust scientific evidence to support these claims.
It seems the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, an advisory body, is poised to publish a policy very critical of homeopathy, says Rachael Dunlop writing in Cosmos:
The NHMRC’s position is … it is unethical for health practitioners to treat patients using homeopathy, for the reason that homeopathy … has been shown not to be efficacious.
What’s been the response from the manufacturers of homeopathy to all of these developments? From Boiron’s Twitter feed: #MommyMonday time is here! Follow & RT 2 win #healthy #homeopathic goodies!