Martin Robbins writing in The Guardian UK describes how the manufacturers of homoeopathic products have been trying to circumvent British regulations for years. To begin his article, he makes the first use of the term ‘Big Sugar‘ to describe these con-artists.
Under current UK law, it is an offence for a lay homeopath to supply or sell unlicensed homeopathic medicines for which they do not hold a certificate of registration from the MHRA. Unlicensed remedies can only supplied by those with prescribing rights – medical doctors or registered pharmacists – and then only after a face-to-face consultation with the patient. Since very few homeopathic products are licensed, this means a huge swathe of Big Sugar‘s products are, in theory at least, not legal.
Two years ago, the British House of Commons examined Homoeopathy and determined that:
If regulation was applied to homeopathic medicines as understood in the context of conventional pharmaceutical medicines, these products would have to be withdrawn from the market as medicines. This would constrain consumer choice and, more importantly, risk the introduction of unregulated, poor quality and potentially unsafe products on the market to satisfy consumer demand.
This stance made no sense whatsoever, as it left the door open to all sort of useless or potentially dangerous treatments as long as they were pushed as being on the market to satisfy consumer demand.
After a freedom of access request, Robbins received the following information:
On September 5th last year, the MHRA wrote to Helios Homeopathics Ltd explaining that they had received “a number of complaints” and pointed out that of the five Helios Homeopathic Kits being marketed to practitioners – the Basic kit, Basic Plus kit, Accident & Emergency kit (!), Child Birth kit (!!) and Travellers Kit – only the Basic kit could “currently be marketed.” The MHRA asked Helios to “discontinue the sale and supply” of the rest, on the basis that the kit names are not approved by the MHRA, and “the kits contain remedies that are not registered or authorised.”
In a rather angry response dated September 27th, Helios claimed that attempts to register a further 18 remedies between 2000 and 2003 failed due to the MHRA’s (then known as the MCA) inability to conduct assessments, and leveled a series of accusations:
“Because of this lack of progress despite numerous enquiries and eventually a complaint letter, we considered that it was not worth us continuing with an expensive and slow process when the MCA did not consider the issue of unlicensed kits to be a priority. It also should be noted that both we and our competitors had supplied unlicensed kits since the early 1990s … with the MCA fully aware at both regulatory and inspection level. Not once, either by an MCA/MHRA inspector or a regulatory official, were we advised to remove the kits from sale and the issue has not arisen until now when a small group of sceptics started lobbying the MHRA.”
In other words, we knew we were breaking the law and getting away with it, but we weren’t penalized, so it’s the fault of those who are making the complaints that we are in trouble now.
And now the punch line—Helios offers the solution: call the products candy. That seems appropriate as they are nothing but sugar pills.
If necessary we could revise the manufacturing method, the labelling of the bottles and kit box to present them as non-medicines and non-homeopathic and market them as ‘confectionery’. Customers who have an interest in homeopathy would still know how to use them and would continue to purchase them despite limited labelling. There would of course be media repercussions and uncontrolled sources appearing and confusion among the public and MPs who would demand a full explanation for the change.
This is an option which our customers would support if it ensured a continuation of the supply of kits until they are fully licensed.
It’s the most honest description of homoeopathic products I’ve heard yet.