Homeopathy Plus / Fran Sheffield in more Hot Water

Fran Sheffield, operator of HomeopathyPlus.com.au has been handed down a raft of sanctions by the Therapeutic Goods Administrations’ Complaint Resolution Panel – Complaint 2011-05-004 Homeopathy Plus – at a Meeting held 16 June 2011, in relation to an Advertisement on her website about a “Flu-Stop” product.

The TGA CRP found that the product advertisement:

  1. Did not contain balanced evidence,
  2. Did not contain adequate evidence for its clams,
  3. Were likely to arouse unwarranted expectations of the product,
  4. Abused the trust of consumers,
  5. Exploited the lack of knowledge of consumers,
  6. Illegally claimed it was safe,
  7. Did not present evidence in an accurate manner,
  8. Did not publish evidence that identified the researcher and financial sponsor,
  9. Was misleading in its portrayal of a comparison product,
  10. Referred to serious diseases and conditions without prior approval by the TGA, and
  11. Failed to include mandatory health warnings on the label of their product.

The sanctions included a Withdrawal of representations, Withdrawal of advertisement, and a Publication of a retraction – the retraction must look like the one below:

The Retraction that MUST be displayed

Fran Sheffield now has 14 days to comply or the provisions of sub-regulations 42ZCAI(3) and (4) allow for the matter to be referred to the Secretary for further action.

However, this isn’t the first time she’s fallen foul of the law. In early 2010 Fran refused to comply with sanctions imposed by the TGA – It’s also likely given her past actions she won’t comply with these either.

She was interviewed by ABC’s Lateline at the time, where she positioned herself as the deciding party as to whether or not she had provided enough evidence to support the claims she made about Homeopathy. She made it clear that it was OK for her to refuse to adhere to the sanctions merely because she ‘disagreed’.

During the program Mark Butler, the Parliamentary Secretary of Health, announced that “The Australian community is entitled to expect that an advertising complaints system will be timely, transparent and have teeth”, and as a result of the revelations that a third of advertisers that had justified complaints failed to comply with the sanctions, Mr. Butler added:

We’re now in a position I hope in the near future – as I have indicated to those players – of publishing options for reform that we think will address all of those issues in one fell swoop.

I’ll be following up on that with the new Parliamentary Secretary of Health.

Having read the findings against HomeopathyPlus, I particularly loved Fran’s response! The CRP noted:

The advertiser expressed concern that the complaint “has not come from an unhappy or concerned consumer but from a person who openly boasts and brags on the Internet about this and similar complaints”,and that “The complainant appears to not understand the subject matter in question”.

The Panel “did not find that complaint to be vexatious or otherwise flawed in any way”; certainly this would be a problem if the complaint were an emotional tirade about homeopathy being silly, unscientific, and preposterous, if the complaint was not clear or if there was no evidence supporting the complaint – but The Panel noted that it was clear and supported by evidence. It was also systematic in pointing to legislation the Advertisement breached.
Amusingly, she attempted to discredit the complainant by calling in to question their understanding of the subject matter, but didn’t provide a reason why she suggested that was the case – just rhetoric. Lovely ad hominem.

The advertiser argued that the law relating to therapeutic goods in Australia was, in relation to homeopathic medicines,“the wrong tool for the wrong job”, and that “the fact that homoeopathy’s mode of action, principles and practices are completely different to those of conventional medicine means that those guidelines and regulations are often inappropriate for assessing homoeopathic information or homoeopathic products.”

It’s the same old “Science can’t measure my Woo” gambit.

If something works, it works. It’s measurable. It’s measurable regardless of the mode of action, or the principles, or the practices. The problem is that Homeopathy fails, and rather than accept she is mistaken, Fran decides that the investigation as to whether or not it works – is wrong. It could be the Dunning-Kruger effect, it could be outright denial, it could be stupidity.

Knowing she’s going to get done for her bullshit claims, Fran then went on the attack and indirectly threatens the Panel with legal action. She may say that’s not the case, but let’s look at what she says:

The advertiser stated that they had received legal advice to the effect that “any Company or regulatory body that endangers the lives of others by withholding or suppressing health-related information is guilty of a criminal act and risks being prosecuted accordingly” and asked that the Panel provide a statement as to “their position… in relation to this legal matter.”

I think it’s clear the legal recourse she wants to take is that the “suppression” of her nonsense endangers the lives of others, the irony being the very fact this information is spread is the cause of some of the problems children and adults alike are suffering, or indeed dying.

There would be no reason to ask The Panel for a statement on “their position”, if there was not some sort of intention to use the statement in a legal battle; which of course they would lose for being so blatantly wrong.

The media has been great in raising the profile of Homeopathy; people like Fran put their foot in their mouth with the nonsense that gets put out there through their websites.

There is no better deterrent to Homeopathy that its own advocates getting on Television and proselytizing.

I congratulate that kind of publicity.

Well done Fran Streisand, keep it up and keep smiling.

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