Al­ter­na­tive medicines group backs curbs

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - Adam Cress­well Health edi­tor

ABREAK­AWAY group of com­ple­men­tary medicine makers has backed a call for tighter reg­u­la­tion of al­ter­na­tive prod­ucts, adding its sup­port to the crit­i­cisms of the ex­ist­ing self-reg­u­la­tory sys­tem.

The in­dus­try or­gan­i­sa­tion Eth­i­cal Com­ple­men­tary Medicines said the reg­u­la­tory sys­tem ‘‘ should be changed so that the public can be told clearly whether or not there is sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to sup­port the ef­fi­cacy of a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct’’.

The ECM’s en­try to the de­bate may strengthen the case for stronger reg­u­la­tion, which was ar­gued in a pa­per pub­lished in the Med­i­cal Jour­nal of Aus­tralia two weeks ago. The pa­per, by La Trobe Univer­sity aca­demic Ken Harvey, an­a­lysed weight-loss prod­ucts listed by the Ther­a­peu­tic Goods Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and found claims made for the weight­loss prod­ucts they iden­ti­fied were ‘‘ of­ten not in ac­cord with the lim­ited sci­en­tific ev­i­dence avail­able’’.

How­ever, the peak com­ple­men­tary in­dus­try group has stuck to its op­po­si­tion to the anal­y­sis. The Com­ple­men­tary Health­care Coun­cil of Aus­tralia said its in­quiries sug­gested ECM rep­re­sented a very small group and its views could not be con­sid­ered rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

TheMJA­pa­per (2008;188:21-25), re­ported in Week­end Health last week (Jan­uary 12-13), de­tailed what it claimed were flaws and loop­holes in the pro­cesses used by the TGA to list prod­ucts, and made a list of rec­om­menda- tions, in­clud­ing forc­ing makers to in­clude state­ments on la­bels that their prod­ucts had not been as­sessed by the TGA for ef­fec­tive­ness.

Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for Health Se­na­tor Jan McLu­cas re­vealed last week she had asked the TGA to re­spond to the pro­pos­als raised in the pa­per.

The ECM— formed less than a year ago — says it rep­re­sents both man­u­fac­tur­ers and mar­keters of com­ple­men­tary medicines, but claims that in com­par­i­son to the ex­ist­ing Com­ple­men­tary Health­care Coun­cil, it is ‘‘ more mil­i­tant and will­ing to rock the boat to achieve change’’.

ECM chief ex­ec­u­tive Carl Thompson said the or­gan­i­sa­tion had ‘‘ more than 10’’ mem­bers, a mix­ture of man­u­fac­tur­ers and ‘‘ con­cerned in­di­vid­u­als’’.

Thompson said weight loss was ‘‘ the big hot but­ton for un­eth­i­cal peo­ple to press to take money off the gullible’’.

‘‘ The sad fact is that there is no short­age of snake oil out there,’’ he said.

‘‘ We want the reg­u­la­tory sys­tem to be changed so that the public can be told clearly whether or not there is sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to sup­port the ef­fi­cacy of a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct.

‘‘ We’re not say­ing that var­i­ous prod­ucts should be banned, be­cause that would be to go down a reg­u­la­tory road that would even­tu­ally give com­plete con­trol of peo­ple’s health to the transna­tional phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies. That would be very much against the public in­ter­est.

‘‘ What we are say­ing is that a cat­e­gory should be cre­ated be­tween reg­is­tered and listed medicines, so that com­ple­men­tary medicines such as weight-loss prod­ucts for which there is sci­en­tific ev­i­dence can be listed there.’’

He said prod­uct la­bels should be amended to make the na­ture of the list­ing clear.

Thompson said the public was not wellserved by the cur­rent reg­u­la­tory struc­ture, be­cause it pre­vented the man­u­fac­tur­ers of com­ple­men­tary medicines re­fer­ring to pub­lished med­i­cal stud­ies on their prod­uct, if those stud­ies dealt with con­di­tions that were classed as se­ri­ous un­der the Ther­a­peu­tic Goods Act.

‘‘ Frankly, we here at ECM con­sider obe­sity to be a se­ri­ous med­i­cal con­di­tion and be­lieve this should be re­flected in the Act,’’ Thompson said.

‘‘ Obe­sity will kill you. A med­i­cal con­di­tion can­not be more se­ri­ous than that.

‘‘ To take money off peo­ple for a prod­uct that may or may not work to help to deal with a weight prob­lem is about as un­eth­i­cal as it gets, in our opin­ion.’’

Com­ple­men­tary Health­care Coun­cil ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Tony Lewis said the ex­ist­ing sys­tem ‘‘ works very well’’. ‘‘ It’s not per­fect, but no sys­tem is,’’ he said. Lewis said ex­pect­ing makers of com­ple­men­tary prod­ucts to cite pub­lished sci­en­tific ev­i­dence back­ing their claims — as phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers did — was un­re­al­is­tic, be­cause com­ple­men­tary prod­ucts did not en­joy pa­tent pro­tec­tion.

Any com­ple­men­tary man­u­fac­turer who pub­lished such ev­i­dence would shortly face in­tense com­pe­ti­tion from ri­val prod­ucts seek­ing to cash in, whereas patents al­lowed phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal drug com­pa­nies a pro­tected pe­riod to re­coup their out­lays, he said.

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