In a recent post, I described how Neal’s Yard Remedies had withdrawn their Malaria homeopathy pills. Their press release said,
as this is obviously a contentious issue which is causing customer concern, we have decided to withdraw the product, Malaria Officinalis 30c from sale with immediate effect.
I described this as bullshit, just like the rest of their press release. The much more likely cause was that they were being investigated by Trading Standards and the MHRA – the medicines regulator in the UK – after a BBC investigation had ‘stung’ one of their branches.
Well today, the MHRA have issued their own press release, which I will reprint here…
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has clamped own on a homeopathic remedy intended to be viewed as a treatment or preventive for malaria sold by the cosmetic chain, Neal’s Yard Remedies. The MHRA has received confirmation from the company that the remedy, Malaria Officinalis 30c, will be removed from sale immediately.
All homeopathic remedies are classed as medicines and require prior authorisation by the MHRA before being placed on the market. The MHRA was concerned that no record of an authorisation had been given for Malaria Officinalis 30c and therefore concluded that it was an offence to sell, supply or to advertise this product which had not been authorised.
David Carter, Head of the Borderline Team at the MHRA said, “This product was clearly intended to be viewed as a treatment or preventive for malaria, which is a serious and potentially life-threatening disease. We regard the promotion of an unauthorised, self-medicating product for such a serious condition to be potentially harmful to public health and misleading. We are pleased that Neal’s Yard Remedies have complied with our request and removed this product from the market.”
So, Neal’s Yard ethical bullshit has been exposed.
Now, I emailed their MD, Jonathan Hook, to ask if he supported the claims made by his unmedically qualified Medicines Director, Susan Curtis. In her book Homoeopathic Alternatives To Immunisation she describes how similar remedies could prevent malaria. Some of them are still for sale. No reply so far.
The book is still for sale on Neal’s Yard’s website. It continues to make alarming claims…
An invaluable guide for all trevellers[sic]. This book contains practical
information on preventing and treating major infectious diseases, including hepatitis, flu, measles and whooping cough.
Only the claim for malaria has now been dropped.
It looks like Neal’s Yard has done the absolute minimum to avoid prosecution. This is shameful and is contemptuous of its customers. When is Neal’s Yard going to come clean and do the right thing?
And let us not forget, Neal’s Yard were only acting as resellers for Ainsworths. Are the MHRA going to anything about that company too?
The BBC have now picked up on this story. “Firm ‘misled’ over malaria drug“. Of course, it wasn;t a ‘drug’ they were selling, but a plain sugar pill.
Is there a penalty for flagrantly breaking the law like this? And if not, why not? What good is the code unless there’s some sanction in breaking it?
Yes, Neal’s Yard were breaking the law and could have been criminally prosecuted. But, I guess that by immediately withdrawing the product, the MHRA probably agreed to a gentle ticking off.
I cannot see this is good enough. As Ben Goldacre said on his mini blog, “If you really need to be told this as a company then you’re almost certainly perpetrating all kinds of other stupid.”
And that is what this post is about.
I agree – it is a shame that more isn’t done to stop this sort of thing happening. Companies will often happily break the law if they know that the sanction is non-existent. You only need to look at the ASA history to see that repeat offenders will accept the slap on the wrist, knowing that the advertising is already out there.
I got an email today from some Australian regulators that have done something about a complaint I made on a website making particularly egregious claims (see their aloe vera page for some scary stuff)
Im not sure whether homeopathy pills work for malaria or not. But I do know that there’s no penalty for misrepresentation if you’re big Pharma. Or at most a rounding error in the balance sheet. Tax deductable. Of course.
So what surprises me here is how you spend so much time targeting the little guys when the big guys are robbing us blind. Or in your view, and it may or may not be correct, robbing us blind ‘too’.
Many apologies for this blog not writing about the issues you would like to see written about. Perhaps you can supply me with a handy list of all issues you feel should be covered until I am allowed to write about High Street retailers offering quack treatments for dangerous conditions and so putting their customers at risk.