CHOICE calls out supplement claims

Bottles with labels that mock up what therapeutic goods companies can claim under the new legislation. Source: CHOICE
Bottles with labels that mock up what therapeutic goods companies can claim under the new legislation. Source: CHOICE

The consumer association is urging Federal Senators to block proposed legislation that would legalise dangerous claims on complementary medicine

CHOICE will be in Canberra on Tuesday calling on Federal Senators to disallow new legislation that would sanction potentially misleading and dangerous claims on complementary medicine.

The legislation, which arose from the 2015 Sansom Review into medicines and medical devices, will come into force after June 25 and will allow 860 claims that CHOICE says have “no scientific basis” to be displayed on therapeutic products regularly sold in pharmacies and supermarkets.

“We are concerned that allowing complementary medicine and supplement companies to make unfounded claims will lead to people paying for products that won’t work, rather than those that could help improve their health,” says CHOICE Campaigns and Policy Team Lead Katinka Day.

“From claiming to help with heart function to providing anxiety relief, people stand to be tricked into thinking these products will help with a medical condition. 

“That’s why we are in Canberra tomorrow urging Senators to ensure that therapeutic companies cannot make claims that aren’t backed by scientific evidence. Senators now have 35 days to act to disallow the legislation and wind-back the rules.

“At minimum, we’d like to see these companies display a clear warning on pack informing people that these claims are based solely on traditional use and have no scientific basis,” Ms Day says.

Under the new legislation:

  • Homeopathic products can claim they decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and relieve symptoms of mild anxiety despite the Federal Government warning that homeopathic products are ineffective.
  • Tonics can claim to help maintain healthy heart function without having scientific evidence to back their claims.

“The legislation lists over 1,000 claims that therapeutic goods companies can select from when making product claims. Eighty-six percent of the claims listed are not backed by scientific evidence and can be made on the basis the product has traditionally been used for that purpose,” says Ms Day.

“Our message to Senators couldn’t be clearer: Australians need to be protected from misleading and dangerous claims. When it comes to our health, it’s just too dangerous to allow companies to trick people into thinking something will work when it simply won’t.”

CHOICE will be handing out mock ups of what it calls “dodgy” claims on complementary medicine products to Federal Senators between 10am and 4pm on 22 May.

Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) says these products have the potential to cause consumers to forgo more evidence-based treatment to the detriment of their health.

“The commendable aim of this determination was to stop sponsors of complementary medicines from making creative free-text indications that were then used to make misleading and deceptive advertising claims that lacked an evidence base,” says FSM President Emeritus Professor John Dwyer in a letter written to Federal Senators.

“However, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) allowed industry to formulate the list of permissible indications with the result that 86% of 1019 indications can now be supported by “traditional” evidence from belief-based alternative medical systems such as Homoeopathy and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

“An inevitable perverse outcome of this determination will be that sponsors of complementary medicines will change the indications of many of their products from ‘scientific’ to ‘traditional’ to the detriment of public health.

“Traditional medicines are by default prescientific, and it is not surprising that the theories on which such traditions are based have not been validated by scientific inquiry.

“Accordingly, we and many others advocate that an educational advisory like the following be added to the pack and promotional material of all products invoking a traditional paradigm: ‘This product is based on traditional beliefs and not modern scientific evidence’.”

FSM calls on the senators to support the call from CHOICE and others to disallow the Therapeutic Goods (Permissible Indications) Determination No 1 of 2018 so that educational advisories can be made mandatory.

The Determination will expire from the Senate Disallowable Instruments List on 25 June 2018.

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  1. pagophilus

    We could do it the way it’s done in the Philippines – products make all the claims they want, and then in fine print somewhere on the packaging is written “No approved therapeutic claims” 🙂

  2. Michael Khoo

    The AUST L system is clearly failing to the point of irrelevance anyhow. Just as people are gambling online, they are sourcing alternative health products directly from overseas and bypassing whatever quality and safety programs the TGA has in place. Any meaningful regulation reform will have minimal impact without a comprehensive public information and education component. It would be sensible to fund this through revenue raised from product licensing fees, and fines imposed on illegal imports.

    It shocks me how many times I have seen people who struggle to afford healthy food and quality health care spending what little money they have to spare on the most spurious alternative “Health” products, and the people who sell them should consider the ethical implications promoting these items.

    • SKB

      Any goods sold in Australia fall under the TGA, so overseas imports aren’t illegal. As it stands, the TGA sets an unbelievably low bar. You actually really have to try to be “banned” under the TGA. I guess the alternative is to give them some teeth and some testing $$$, but as things stand the woo-fairies can continue to flog magic beans and sugar water and claim they are “therapeutic”, since flogging products with “No observable therapeutic effect” is not actually considered fraud.

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