Homeopathy: The Endgame Cometh?

There has been a rather interesting announcment from the Advertising Standards Authority:

Since 1 March we’ve received a large number of complaints about claims on homeopathy websites, mostly about claims for the efficacy of homeopathy in diagnosing, treating or helping certain health or medical conditions (e.g. arthritis).

The high volume of complaints and the number of marketers we need to work with means we’ve take a different approach to our normal investigation process. We’re now dealing with the complaints as part of a wider investigation project.

We don’t play a numbers game – we can act on just one complaint. So we don’t need to receive further complaints about homeopathy websites in order to act.

Fair enough – I can well appreciate that playing Quack Whack-a-mole with individual complaints can be a pretty time consuming business for the ASA, so its makes sense for them to cut out the middle men and tackle the sector as a whole.

Oddly – or maybe not given his usual deluded state – David Tredinnick MP appears to be rather pleased with this latest development:

@TredinnickMP The ASA has seen sense and decides not to accept any more complaints about #homeopathy

[Oops – got taken in by a spoof account, there – never mind]

But wait, there’s more to come – the ASA hasn’t simply asked everyone to hold off on sending them any further complaints.

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.

In July, we’ll monitor these websites to see whether the necessary changes have been made. This will help to inform the nature and scope of any future action we may take. In the meantime, we won’t be contacting the owners of any other websites that are brought to our attention. But we will retain their website details for future compliance initiatives, if we consider such action to be necessary….

We will also produce some guidance for website owners, which we will publicise shortly, to help them to comply with the rules. If you are a marketer of homeopathy products or services and want to receive notification of this advice please sign up for the Insight newsletter.

Oh dear, it looks very much as if Tredinnick hasn’t bothered to read past the first three paragraphs because although it remains to be seen what guidance the ASA will issue, what seems patently obvious from this statement is that, henceforth, all claims of efficacy in the treatment of specific health conditions are completely off the table save for any products that the MHRA licences for sale with indications.

What this seems to suggest is that rather than go to all the time and trouble of slapping down individual homeopaths, the ASA may be preparing to bring out the big guns and park their tanks directly on the lawn of the Society of Homeopaths and any other homeopathic trade organisations that purport to operate in a pseudo-regulatory fashion. In essence, what appears to coming down the pipeline from the ASA is ‘Here’s the rules… now clean out your own stable or else”.

Interestingly, only a couple of months back, the Society of Homeopaths were openly welcoming the ASA’s decision to set up a project to review the evidence base for homeopathy:

The Society of Homeopaths today welcomes the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) announcement that it is to set up a project to look into the evidence base for the efficacy of homeopathic medicine.

The Society, the UK’s largest regulator of homeopaths, is looking forward to working with the ASA and will be submitting the well established and growing body of research evidence that shows homeopathy to be a safe, clinically-effective and cost-effective option.

Zofia Dymitr, chairwoman of the Society, said: “We are delighted that the ASA have decided to take an evidenced-based look at Homeopathy. For a number of years now it has been difficult to advise our members on issues like wording for adverts because the ASA’s position has been inconsistent. We look forward to working with the ASA to clarify the facts around Homeopathy and, once the ASA has concluded its work, to help our members to share the knowledge of their services with potential consumers in the full confidence of the ASA just like any other business or service provider”.

Clearly, with the ASA now stating for the record that there is insufficient robust scientific evidence to support these claims, the Society of Homeopaths has done a bang-up job of clarifying the ‘facts around homeopathy’ and will likely be in for some interesting times once its members come to realise that the ASA has concluded that they can no longer claim that homeopathy is efficacious or that it can be used to treat any specific conditions, least of all the extreme gullibility of its supporters.