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US to tighten rules on homeopathic “medicines”

According to a policy statement[1] released in Nov 2016 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) homeopathic products will soon have to submit to the same regulations that govern other products sold as drugs in the Unites States.  Classified as drugs under the FTC Act decades ago, homeopathy has nonetheless enjoyed a de facto exemption from scrutiny.  This is partly because of a sympathetic lobby and the prevailing notion that it was, at worst, a harmless nuisance – not something to waste regulatory effort over[2].  However, decades of work by medical and skeptical groups, including the Center for Inquiry, has paid off and, in the words of Dr. Stephen Novella, of Science Based Medicine, “the FTC has finally decided to do its job” [3].

In their summary the FTC acknowledges that there “is no basis under the FTC Act to treat homeopathy drugs any differently than other health products”. The summary goes on to say that despite the lack of reliable scientific evidence, claims by homeopathic labeling must “be substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence”.  Unfortunately this was followed by an allowance that homeopathic products could still make unfounded health claims as long as it was clearly stated on the label that the claims are not based on science or evidence. This kind of change may not affect the average consumer of homeopathic products, so we are not sure it will have any real effect, but we are optimistic that this signals a shift on the part of the FTC, bringing it more in line with the UK and Australia, where government crackdown on homeopathy is more aggressive.   Perhaps Health Canada will take note and consider regulating all homeopathy products in our country with “truth in advertising” as a core value.

Blythe Nilson

Science Chair