Green tick’ idea for herb treatments
AGREEN tick similar in appearance to the National Heart Foundation’s well-known red tick could be applied to complementary medicines that have evidence to back their claims, to help consumers pick which treatments work best.
The symbol has been suggested to the federal Government as a potential solution to claims of dubious products that have little evidence to back them.
Like the Heart Foundation tick, the green symbol would only be available to companies that opted in to the system, and paid a fee to submit products to independent assessment.
The proposal was put to Parliamentary Secretary for Health Senator Jan McLucas last month, after a study in the MedicalJournalof Australia sparked renewed claims that regulation of complementary medicines is ineffective — citing weight-loss herbal treatments.
The study’s lead author, Ken Harvey, a longstanding campaigner for tighter regulation of complementary medicines, said at the time that the study highlights the fact that there’s a big problem in regulation’’.
An adjunct senior research fellow at the school of public health at La Trobe University, Harvey said the claims made for the weightloss products were often not in accord with the limited scientific evidence available’’. Harvey told Weekend Health there was certainly interest in some sort of tick . . . that might assist consumers to better select evidence-based products’’.
There’s certainly interest in that from a number of organisations, individual practitioners and complementary medicines manufacturers,’’ he said. Clearly, there’s concern that a green tick might say too much to consumers — it might imply that things work better (than others), or had fewer side-effects.
There’s more work that needs to be done on how we can clearly communicate risks and benefits. But there seems to be a feeling that there are issues to be pursued.’’
McLucas has previously indicated she took the concerns aired in the original MJA report (2008;188:21-25) seriously. She said at the time she had asked the TGA for an analysis of the current process of approval of advertising material to ensure consumers were protected from misleading or unsubstantiated claims. Harvey concedes a tick program faced various problems, including the fact that scientific evidence, by its very nature, keeps changing.
I would have said that glucosamine was a classic example of a product that might get a tick, but the latest trial — from the US National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine — showed it to have no benefit, except in a sub-group of patients.
There are a handful of things where there’s good evidence (that they work), and they should be supported.’’
The industry group Complementary Healthcare Council is strongly opposed to Harvey’s reforms, which include a disclaimer on product labels to explain that the listing’’ process used by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to approve most alternative products does not mean that the products have been assessed for efficacy by the TGA.
The CHC’s executive director Tony Lewis says the proposal to scrap the listing process and assess complementary medicines for efficacy flies in the face of sound, efficient and economic risk-based regulatory practice’’.
The industry is not united on this point. One complementary medicines maker that supports Harvey’s proposals is Flordis Herbal Medicines, which is not a CHC member.
Flordis’s managing director Nigel Pollard says his company only sells products for which the evidence is strong, and says there’s quite a lot of concern’’ at the excessive marketing claims made by some products. In effect, the system at the moment is that the industry is trusted to hold evidence to support its claims, and a lot of people believe, rightly or wrongly, that the evidence isn’t held . . . and that raises a question-mark over the whole listed’ category,’’ Pollard said.
At the moment it’s not possible for the consumer to select a product based on evidence . . . The tick idea, I would imagine, would be quite well accepted by people in the industry who wanted to do more research.’’
Some other experts think the calls for tighter regulation are not warranted.
Professor Alan Bensoussan, director of the recently created National Institute of Complementary Medicine, concedes that some makers are pushing the limits in terms of the sorts of claims that can be made. But my view is not that the regulatory model is weak — it probably just needs to be able to monitor and respond a bit more than at the moment’’.