Cheers for US homeopathy crackdown

3 minute read

A crackdown on advertising of homeopathic products in the US has prompted calls for Australia to follow suit


A crackdown on advertising of homeopathic products in the US has prompted calls for Australia to follow suit, but the TGA says consumers here are sufficiently protected by existing regulations.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently ordered homeopathic companies to explicitly state on product labels that their concoctions did not work.

Specifically, product labels now need to effectively communicate that: there is no scientific evidence that the product works; and that the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts. If homeopathy companies fail to convey the “extremely limited nature of the health claim being asserted”, they will be in violation of the FTC Act.

While some claim Australia needs similar consumer protections, the TGA maintains homeopathic products are “very low risk” and bound by strict advertising rules in Australia.

A spokeswoman for the TGA said the FTC was more of a commercial regulator, akin to the ACCC, rather than a comprehensive therapeutic goods regulator.

“The FTC has a different role to that of the TGA,” the spokeswoman said.

Homeopathic medicines in Australia are exempt from regulation by the TGA if their ingredients are at more than 1,000-fold dilution, do not contain certain ingredients, and do not make any therapeutic claims that refer to the treatment of human diseases.

However, the TGA does deal with complaints about false advertising claims around homeopathic medicines.

But, “No definitive action has ever been taken by the TGA on these products in Australia despite numerous complaints being upheld,” Dr Ken Harvey, an Adjunct Associate Professor at Monash University, told TMR.

He said the TGA tended to take a hands-off approach to homeopathic medicines, and Australia could benefit from adopting stricter regulations.

“If it’s good enough for the States it should be good enough for us,” Dr Harvey said.

“The assumption is that if it doesn’t have anything in it, it’s not really a medicine so it doesn’t need to be regulated properly.

“[This] ignores the fact that people are going to promote this stuff with claims that are unethical and unreasonable.”

The ACCC has successfully enforced penalties for the promotion of dangerous homeopathic treatments. Last year, Homeopathy Plus was ordered to pay $115,000  for false or misleading claims about homeopathic remedies as an alternative for pertussis vaccine.

However, homeopathy treatments continued to make false claims, which raises questions of the adequacy of the sanctions and fines, Dr Harvey said.

Rachael Dunlop, medical researcher and vice president of Australian Skeptics, also backed the US stance.

US-style disclaimers would “absolutely help people become aware that these products are not actually medicine”, she said.

“Personally, I would just like to see a big sticker that says, ‘Not medicine’.”

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