“Homeopathy: There’s Nothing in it” is the slogan for the 10:23 campaign, a British-based global campaign to educate the public to the fact that homeopathic preparations are typically so dilute that there is not a single molecule of the supposed active ingredient left in a standard dose. The slogan could now be used to describe the core contention of a $30 million class action lawsuit here in Canada.
The suit has been filed by leading class-action law firm Roy, Elliott, O’Connor (REO), in partnership with Centre for Inquiry Canada. It follows an open letter sent by CFI’s Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS) to Shoppers Drug Mart, demanding that it cease selling worthless homeopathic products such as Oscillococcinum, Boiron Inc.’s popular homeopathic flu remedy. In the new lawsuit against both Shoppers and Boiron, REO alleges that the two companies have, through their marketing of Oscillococcinum, committed no fewer than twelve separate violations of consumer protection acts.
The heart of the case is the claim that Oscillococcinum (“Oscillo”) does not in fact contain the active ingredient Boiron lists on its packaging. The packaging for Oscillo lists the active ingredient as “Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis extractum 200C”. Put into plain English, this describes a dilution of an initial extract of the heart and liver of the Barbary (or Muscovy) duck. Set aside for the moment the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that Barbary duck organs have any effect on influenza, and focus on the dilution. Even by homeopathic standards, the level of dilution in Oscillo is extreme: “200C” indicates a serial dilution of one part in 100, repeated 200 times. That is, the final product represents a theoretical dilution level of one part in 10400. Given that the entire observable universe only contains an estimated 1080 atoms, it is clear that almost all of these dilutions involve simply diluting water with water – there is no trace of duck heart or liver left after the first dozen or so dilutions. So the claimed active ingredient in Oscillo is neither “active” nor an “ingredient”. Rather, since each 1g pill contains 0.85g sucrose and 0.15g lactose, Oscillo is in fact 100% sugar. By misrepresenting their sugar pills as containing an active ingredient, Boiron violates numerous consumer protection laws.
A further complaint in the lawsuit concerns the use of the term “200C”. This violates the Weights and Measures Act and the Food and Drug Act, for “C” is not a recognized unit of measurement for medicinal ingredients (indeed, though it is displayed as a measurement, “200C” actually describes a process, not a measurement). Moreover, the measurement is confusing and misleading, for a higher number actually designates a lower amount – there is less of the ingredient, the higher the dilution. (Of course, in the upside-down world of homeopathy, higher dilutions are supposedly more potent, but fortunately the law inhabits this world, where less really is less.)
Finally, but most importantly, the suit points out that not a single scientific study has reliably shown that the active ingredient listed for Oscillo is effective at treating influenza, or at relieving flu symptoms. And even if the active ingredient were effective, this would be irrelevant, for Oscillo contains no active ingredient! Boiron thus grossly misstates the health benefits of its product, deceiving consumers into thinking they are buying an effective medicine.
At $14.99 for six 1g pills ($2,500 per kg), Oscillo is hardly cheap: compared to a 2kg bag of sugar for $3 ($1.50 per kg), it would appear to be at least 160,000% overpriced! By selling grossly overpriced sugar pills as effective medicine, both Boiron and Shoppers Drug Mart have profited greatly from customers, few of whom can have any idea of how those pills were prepared or what they contain (unless they were buying them for a homeopathic “overdose”, that is!). While these customers were not denied potentially life-saving treatment as a result of their ill-advised purchases – unlike those who rely on homeopathic “vaccines” or treatment for illnesses more serious than seasonal colds and flus – they were duped out of money that could have been spent on products that would actually provide relief. We believe that this revenue was gained unlawfully, and that neither Shoppers nor Boiron has the right to hold it. (If you know anyone who has unwittingly bought Oscillo, and is willing to be a part of this case, please contact CFI.)
As we enter World Homeopathy Awareness Week – in which homeopaths try to raise awareness for anything but how empty their claims are – we hope that this case will increase awareness of the misleading nature of Boiron’s marketing, and that it will persuade Shoppers Drug Mart to get out of the snake oil business. As CASS wrote in its open letter to Shoppers:
“Continuing to profit on homeopathic products is a blatant display of poor practice, bad corporate citizenship, and disregard for … customers’ health.”
For more information, visit the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism. See also CFI’s media release.