Alternative medicines group backs curbs
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.