Class Action Lawsuit Filed against Homeopathy Manufacturer Boiron and Shoppers Drug Mart


The following is a guest post contributed by Iain Martel of the Centre for Inquiry Canada’s Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS).

“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.

40 Responses to “Class Action Lawsuit Filed against Homeopathy Manufacturer Boiron and Shoppers Drug Mart”

  1. Adam says:

    A bold move but a justified one that I hope pans out. Good luck.

  2. Guy Chapman says:

    I think Boiron are reaping the reward for poking the sleeping dog of the skeptic community by trying to stifle criticism. We are all Spartacus…

    I have pointed out the multiple missing links in the chain of evidence for Oscillo in Oscillococcinum: The canonical quack remedy.

  3. Carrie says:

    Great. so some nasty people are trying to get things banned just because they don’t like them and have never tried them. Why this horrible witch hunt on homeopathic remedies? You don’t have to use them if you don’t want to, but some of us out here DO use them, like them and find them very effective. Back off people, live and let live. There are many pharmaceutical drugs out there that do not work on me, but I’m not trying to get them banned.

    • Iain says:

      Nobody is trying to ban the sale of homeopathic remedies. This is about misinformation. People are being led to believe that these products actually contain active ingredients that have medicinal effects. But they don’t. That’s not a matter of opinion: it’s a fact (or, as Barack Obama might say, “it’s math”). If Boiron changes the label to remove all the false claims, and if Shoppers stops stocking the product on the same shelves as medicines that aren’t just sugar pills, then we wouldn’t have any problem with the sale of Oscillo.
      Of course, they’d have a hard time competing with Tic Tacs if they were marketed honestly….

      • Monica says:

        WHat do people define active??? what about nanoparticles? does everything has to be tangible? what about therapeutic touch should it be banned because you can not visually see any transfer of energy?
        How does electricity work? can you touch the light rays?
        did you hear of computer emiting electromagnetic fields?? could you touch them???
        There are no false claims as the homeopathy goes. You should give it a try and experience some on yourself – if you believe they don’t have any “active” ingredient then there should be no no fear of harm.
        I challenge you to find a good homeopath a experience the energy of homeopathic remedies.

      • Mark says:

        Well, “lain”, I guess you’re okay with the fact that a lot of prescription drugs, which you probably think are okay, but which in fact kill a lot of real human beings every year, don’t advertise on their list of ingredients that they are derived from petroleum, because you only complain about the labeling of homeopathic remedies.

        I’m one of many people who have been using homeopathy for years and it works for me and for my son. My son has consistently not needed to take flu shots over the years because he takes Oscillococcinum when he gets it and recovers quickly. One time when my ex-wife refused to give it to him he almost ended up in the emergency room with a 104 degree temperature.

        Anyway, maybe homeopathy works for some of us because we’re more open-minded than you are. The mind is such a powerful thing that if something, like homeopathy, had the potential to work for you but you were so dead set against it that you wouldn’t allow for the possibility, believe me, your mind would find a way to convince your body that it wasn’t working. It’s that old mind/body connection thing, you know?

  4. Bob says:

    Too bad it’s just in Canada. There should be simultaneous class action lawsuits in every country in which this BS remedy is sold.

  5. Ray says:

    Being interested in attending at least one World Homeopathy Awareness Week event in Toronto I called the Ontario College of Homeopathic Medicine. They were unaware of WHAW.

  6. Patricia says:

    Could Boiron simply be challenged to prove that their product contains the active ingredient listed? Normally (for other products) there should be some feasible quality control.

  7. Rewbix says:

    This is fantastic news. Phoney medicine has no place in the drug store beside legitimate medical products – the uninformed have no way of telling the difference, and put their trust in the people selling the medicine not to lie to them. I hope Shoppers faces a hefty fine and that other stores learn not to follow suit.

    Duck organs, give me a break…

  8. Miguel says:

    About time.

    Has anybody had any luck approaching the pharmacist on duty at their local Shoppers Drug Mart and asking them to justify putting sugar water on the same shelf as real medicine?

    • Iain says:

      Several SDM pharmacists CASS members spoke to admitted that they would never recommend homeopathy. The problem is not the individual pharmacists, but the corporation that pushes them to stock these products.

      • Monica says:

        The pharmacies are stocking the homeopathic remedies because there is demand of people who found them helpful, useful and effective. Cold effects has active ingredients but it does not work for me. Ossilococcinum does for me and my family for past 4 years without fail.

    • Lin says:

      I once casually asked my Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist about Oscillo and I was surprised and disappointed by her answer.
      She said she’d never tried it herself, but homeopathy makes sense to her because it’s like vaccines.

      :-(

  9. Excellent work, CASS. I’ll be interested in how this unfolds. Please keep us updated.

  10. Sion says:

    One thing you missed out is that Oscillo doesn’t even exist in the first place. It was seen once down a microscope and never again. It was just a flaw in the optics of the scope.

  11. John says:

    This would only be good work if they had a clue about what they are talking about. Who are they to regulate something that they or the people commenting on this ridiculous claim no nothing about. Maybe you guys should take up reading and educate yourself.

    • Dianne Sousa says:

      John,

      A courtroom is a perfect place to determine who does, and who does not know what they are talking about. The regulations are already in place. The claim is that Boiron and Shopper’s Drug Mart are breaking those regulations.

    • Art Tricque says:

      That is the problem: we are educated, and thus we cannot abide retail pharmacy chains taking advantage of and misrepresenting products to consumers.

  12. ODB says:

    Cool story bro. Does a degree in philosophy of science even mean anything? That being said the success homeopathy seems to be in the eye of the beholder, or not really work at all so I’m glad this is issue is being brought up

  13. Susan Gerbic says:

    You know… Shoppers Drug Mart’s Wikipedia page got 6,800 hits last month. I just noticed that there is no mention on its page about the CASS class action suit. I wonder if someone has some time that maybe they can get this article into a few pages like Boiron’s (which had 1500 hits) and Oscillococcinum, has over 11K hits last month?

    I’m sure someone might take the hint that possibly we can get this information to readers of Wikipedia whom normally aren’t skeptics.

    See my blog for more tips on Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia. Get active!

    http://guerrillaskepticismonwikipedia.blogspot.com/

  14. Margit says:

    In the meantime Johnson@Johnson has just been slapped with a $1.2 billion fine for fraudulent sales practices. At least homeopathy doesn’t kill people.

  15. WJHopper says:

    I complained to Shoppers last year regarding their marketing of homeopathic medicine(?) to parents with children. After being fobbed off a couple of times, this was their reply;

    “Please know that it is certainly not our intent to upset or offend any of our valued customers. The entire philosophy of our company is based on the understanding of care and concern for all of our customers. Our promise is to provide superior customer satisfaction beyond expectation. As health care professionals, Shoppers Drug Mart offers many products and services to meet the health care needs of all of our customers. We receive comments and advice from a wide spectrum of advocates, each with their own value systems, about the many products that a drug store sells and the various services we offer. We sincerely appreciate your comments, however, Shoppers Drug Mart’s position is that it will not allow itself to become the cultural or moral censor; we will however continue to meet the health care needs of our customers. Although we sell a product does not constitute any endorsement on our part.”

    Profiteering from peoples’ ignorance at the expense of children leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. Best of luck with this lawsuit.

  16. cgrl says:

    interesting to translate someone inappropriately choose an alternative therapy and dying that the alternative therapy *caused* the death. I think that right now there is actually a class action lawsuit against g-d and jesus. the parents who didn’t take little johnny to the hospital because their religion told them not to interfere; g-d would fix everything. Well, sometimes little Johnny dies. And obviously it’s G-ds fault and has nothing to do with someone making a bad, ill-informed decision. • Homeopathy + animals = the best way to see these *sugar pills* are not simply placebos. There is little way to explain vibrational healing. And I certainly CAN NOT explain why Oscillo works, or why it and YinChio (for colds) prevent colds and flu. If I take them the minute I feel it coming on, the sickness stays at bay. Re: pharmaceuticals, people have no IDEA what they are doing to their body to satisfy that fiendish money hungry monstrosity and most docs only know how to push drugs and I don’t think the negative side-effects, immediate and future are properly explained.. I think most people have had some minor to serious side-effect from a pharmaceutical. The industry is hand-in-hand with gov. – practically unstoppable/untouchable. We are blessed with the advantages of much of modern day medicine – but the reality is the actual drugs very often KILL people. The actual homeopathic pills do not. Pharmaceutical/corporations want the alternative health market $. They are buying out many of the companies. ALL supplements are at risk. Whether YOU believe in them or not, people should maintain a choice. Just like small America farms fighting and giving up against Monsanto; traditional dairy farms and the FDA; smaller companies (prob not Boiron, but most) would simply have to shut its doors after an onslaught of lawsuits. Sell out or get shut down. Watch, it’s happening right now.

  17. Melanda Guenther says:

    I find this appalling, because it violates basic human rights. So should we ban reading material that we don’t agree with too? It amounts to censorship, and by the way, I know that you skeptics have never tried Oscilococcinum, if you think it doesn’t work…it is ridiculous just because you don’t understand it, that you don’t even try it! That is the definition of ignorant, and is anti-scientific! Stop hating people….and educate yourself!!!!!!

    Oh and by the way, they have just been able to prove that the Higgs boson particle exists to explain how elementary particles acquire mass, so did we not believe that particles acquire mass before they proved it?!!! Just try it people, and if it works for you (to be taken only within 24 hours of getting the flu, after that you have to try something more specific to your particular cold symptoms) then say to yourself just as many brilliant scientists have done before you: “Hmmmm, I wonder how it works?”

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  • Iain Martel

    Iain Martel is a founder and co-chair of the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS), part of the Centre for Inquiry Canada. He has a PhD in philosophy of science from the University of Colorado. A British citizen, it was during his graduate work in Colorado that he first experienced the horrors of the religious right: Focus on the Family, Promise Keepers, and the 40% of Americans who believe the Earth is only 6000 years old. After working with CASS, he now knows more about homeopathy and other pseudosciences than any rational person should.