About six months ago, I reported on the application of a group of veterinarians belonging to the American College of Veterinary Botanical Medicine (ACVBM) for status as a medical specialty group. I explained the main reasons why, despite the potential value of herbal medicine, such status is not warranted at this time:
- There is very little high-quality or reliable scientific evidence to support the use of herbal products in veterinary patients.
- Herbal prescribing is dominated by Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and other unscientific folk belief systems, and those proponents who take a more scientific approach are a small minority generally unwilling to reject the claims or methods of alternative herbal medicine.
- Herbal products are unregulated, inconsistent and unpredictable in their chemical composition, frequently contaminated with toxins or even undisclosed pharmaceutical drugs, and almost none have been properly tested for safety or efficacy. There is ample evidence of serious harm to human patients from herbal products. The ACVBM supports industry self-regulation rather than the kind of government oversight accepted as necessary for pharmaceutical medicines without any sound reason for doing so.
- The majority of the leadership of the ACVBM are dedicated proponents of alternative medicine, not only for herbal products but homeopathy, acupuncture, energy medicine, and many other unproven or pseudoscientific practices. Many have said clear and troubling things that display a contempt for science and science-based medicine and a desire to use the appearance of scientific methods to gain acceptance for alternative practices. This makes it very likely that approval of the ACVBM as a specialty board would serve as a Trojan horse for the legitimization of other alternative therapies.
- The potential of herbal medicines would be better explored from a rigorously scientific approach involving specialists in pharmacology, toxicology, nutrition, epidemiology, and other existing medical specialties.
The deadline for public comment on the application is September 1. As this date approaches, there has been more discussion of this issue. The Veterinary information Network (VIN) News Service recently published an article on the debate in which I and other skeptics, as well as several proponents of herbal medicine are quoted at length.
The American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) has taken a public position opposing the ACVBM application.
Proponents of the application have also been active, including efforts to gain support from the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA), the leading advocacy group for alternative veterinary medicine . This actually helps to support and illustrate my objection #4 above. Even members of the ACVBM who claim to support a scientific approach and eschew the alternative roots of herbal medicine are providing links to the AHVMA templates for letters supporting the petition. Herbal medicine is still inextricably linked to alternative medicine, and this will not be fixed by setting up a specialty board run by alternative practitioners.
Similarly, the current president of the ACVBM, Dr. Ihor Basko, has made this statement in his appeal to supporters to write letters in favor of the petition:
Surprisingly there is much opposition to the college, mostly from veterinarians. It also appears that the pharmaceutical industry has hired “trolls” disguised as pet owners to write letters in opposition to the college.
Dr. Basko is an advocate of Chinese Medicine and many varieties of unscientific medical practices, and this sort of consipracist nonsense is typical of the ideology and rhetoric of the alternative medicine community. To suggest the ACVBM will be a rigorously and strictly scientific group when practitioners like Dr. Basko dominate the leadership is disingenuous and not convincing.
I encourage anyone dedicated to truly science-based veterinary medicine to write or email the American Board of Veterinary Specialities before September 1 and declare your opposition to this application. I have provided the contact information and a sample letter below:
American Board of Veterinary Specialties
c/o Mr.David Banasiak
1931 N. Meacham Rd, Suite 100
Schaumburg, IL, 60173
Dear Mr. Banasiak:
I am writing to oppose the recognition of the American College of Veterinary Botanical Medicine (ACVBM) as a veterinary specialty organization. The ACVBM does not meet the core criteria set forth by the ABVS, and recognition would not be in the best interests of animal owners nor the veterinary profession.
Botanical medicine is not recognized as a medical specialty, in human or veterinary medicine, in the U.S., Europe, Australia, or most other scientifically advanced nations because the research evidence concerning herbalism and botanical remedies does not support this status. Prescribing practices are largely untested and based on folk medicine beliefs and traditions, and most herbal products are untested and un-regulated. Very few herbal therapies have been validated by the type of high-quality clinical trial evidence typically required for pharmaceutical medicines. Problems with mislabeling and contamination by toxic adulterants and pharmaceuticals is frequently reported for herbal products, with documented harm to patients. While there is great potential for medicinal use of plant-derived compounds, this potential can best be realized through pharmacognosy and other conventional forms of scientific research under the auspices of clinical pharmacology, toxicology, and other existing medical specialties.
The primary distinction the ACVBM offers between its approach and current conventional research and application of herbal remedies is the use of “traditional knowledge” to guide herbal prescribing. This means that the theories and practices of folk medicine traditions are considered sufficient to guide the use of herbal medicines, even when controlled research evidence is unavailable or contradicts traditional theory and practice. Almost none of this “traditional knowledge” has been validated by controlled research, and much of it is incompatible with established scientific principles and knowledge.
Illustrating the reliance of the ACVBM on unscientific principles is the affiliations and practices of the members of the ACVBM Organizing Committee. Nearly all are affiliated with the Chi Institute or other Chinese Medicine organizations, and most are practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is an alternative system for understanding health and disease which is entirely independent from, and inconsistent with, science-based medicine. It views disease as arising from imbalances of mystical forces, such as Chi or Yin and Yang, and metaphorical humors such as Wind, Damp, Heat, and so on. Diagnoses such as “Rebellious Chi” or “Excess Wind” are made based on behavioral and historical information, tongue color and texture, pulse quality, and other traditional means. These diagnoses are then used to guide the use of herbal products, which are categorized in their effects by taste, appearance, and historical use rather than any scientific analysis of their components or physiologic effects. TCVM is not a specialty area within scientific veterinary medicine, it is an alternative to it. Recognizing the ACVBM would effectively identify TCM herbalism as a legitimate scientific medical practice without appropriate evidence to support this status.
Additionally, a majority of the ACVBM leadership is also affiliated with the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA), and many have served in the leadership of this group. The AHVMA promotes and defends every type of alternative medicine, from herbalism and acupuncture to homeopathy and faith healing. Most of the Organizing Committee members promote or utilize numerous alternative therapies other than herbal medicine, and many have been publicly critical of conventional and evidence-based medicine and have recommended greater reliance on traditional knowledge and personal experience. These views do not support a rigorous scientific standard for developing safe and effective therapies and would not promote more evidence-based and higher-quality patient care.
The best way to develop the potential of plant-based medicines is to continue rigorous scientific research into herbal remedies, based on established scientific principles and methods. This progress can best be accomplished through the existing veterinary specialty areas. Traditional use may suggest testable hypotheses, but it is not a reliable guide for prescribing. Recognition of the ACVBM would be counterproductive in encouraging folk medicine-based approaches and in giving the ABVS imprimatur of scientific legitimacy to theories and practices which do not merit it. This would mislead veterinarians and animal owners and encourage the promotion of unscientific alternative practices.