|Here's a label that the FDA should require.|
The FTC can't prevent homeopathic marketers from selling their products; only the FDA could do that. But starting very soon, they will require that homeopathic products include statements that:
- There is no scientific evidence backing homeopathic health claims
- Homeopathic claims are based only on theories from the 1700s that are not accepted by modern medical experts.
But wait: does this mean homeopathic drug makers didn't have to be truthful in the past? Well, yes. As the FTC report explains, in 1988 the FDA–the agency in charge of regulating drugs in the U.S–basically struck a deal where they agreed that homeopaths could be self-regulating, as long as they included a disclaimer that their claims haven't been evaluated by the FDA. To put this more bluntly: the FDA's agreement with homeopaths (you can read it here) is basically a license to lie.*
For example, the widely-sold homeopathic product Oscillococcinum, which is nothing more than a sugar pill, says on its packaging that it "Temporarily relieves flu-like symptoms such as body aches, headache, fever, chills and fatigue."
Helpful hint to potential
Homeopathy is the most obviously fake alternative medicine you're likely to see in your local pharmacy. This may seem like a pretty strong statement, but look at what homeopathy claims:
- That infinite dilutions of a substance, to the point where not a single molecule remains, have a medical benefit
- That water "remembers" the substances that were in it in the past
- That a substance that causes a symptom will, when diluted, cure that same symptom. Thus (for example) poison ivy can cure itching.
The FDA held a public hearing last March, and the FTC held their public workshop in September. They solicited and received over 500 comments, both pro and con. Most of the pro-homeopathy comments boil down to "it worked for me" or "people have been using this stuff for years"; in other words, anecdotes and testimonials. The con-homeopathy comments described scientific studies showing that homeopathy simply doesn't work. These include a thorough review conducted by the Australian government last year, which concluded:
"There are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective."Despite Alan Levinovitz's concerns that warning labels won't help, I'm with the FTC here. If the FDA won't (or can't) stop homeopaths from selling their modern snake oil, at least we can slap labels on them saying they don't work. If consumers want to buy a product that the government says doesn't work, well, it's their money.
*Well, they're not really lying if they include a disclaimer, are they? So I'm not really calling them liars.