A British plea for sensible policy on unscientific remedies

A new report from Britain on the ineffectiveness of homeopathic medicine should set off alarm bells in Canada. The MPs on the British House of Commons science and technology committee issued a report this week that says homeopathic remedies don’t work.

Having studied the available research, the committee takes aim at Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency for licensing homeopathic treatments—giving consumers the misleading impression they are somehow comparable to approved drugs backed by science.

Lest Canadians imagine that putting a government seal of approval on imaginary cures is an amusing example of English eccentricity, I’m sorry to have to point out that Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate does the same thing.

The federal directorate licences vitamins and minerals, herbal cures, traditional medicines like the Chinese kind, and homeopathic remedies. Its website says it aims to make sure Canadians have “access to natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality, while respecting freedom of choice and philosophical and cultural diversity.”

Well, it’s doing a fine job on the respecting choice and diversity part. But when it comes to ensuring that products are “effective,” I’m not so sure.

Applicants for federal government licences for homeopathetic medicine must submit “evidence to support the safety, efficacy and quality” of their products. The permitted evidence, however, includes “references to traditional use” and “homeopathic materials,” “homeopathic pharmacopoeias.” Also “homeopathic provings,” whatever those might be.

I’ve written about the shortcomings of the Natural Health Products Directorate before, and I’d recommend this commentary from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. As the British news suggests, it’s hard to understand why any government would get into the business of lending credibility to supposed health products whose manufacturers make claims that aren’t supported by science.