In December John Fitzgerald, the Director of Operations for the British Veterinary Medicines Directorate, announced that the regulatory agency will begin more aggressive supervision of medical claims made for alternative medicine products. According to the announcement,
Some of these products are claiming to be effective and safe when no scientific evidence has been presented to us to show they are
Animal owners have a right to know if a product does what it claims. The products claim to treat diseases which can cause serious welfare problems and in some circumstances kill animals if not properly treated. So in some cases owners are giving remedies to their pets which don’t treat the problem
The agency will begin contacting manufacturers of homeopathic and herbal animal remedies and nutraceuticals to request scientific evidence of safety and efficacy. Unfortunately, if such evidence is not provided, the products will still be legal to sell, however they must remove any label claims suggesting a medical use of the product. Likely, manufacturers will then switch to the vague yet still misleading “structure and function” claims the FDA allows in the U.S. for herbs and supplements without adequate evidence to support true health claims.
Still, it is encouraging to see a government agency somewhere at least making the statement, which is bizarrely controversial in some circles, that before selling pet owners a medicine for their animals the manufacturer ought to prove the medicine actually works and isn’t harmful. Whether or not the VMD will be able to effectively enforce such a regulation given the ease of Internet marketing and distribution of home remedies is uncertain, but it’s nice to see them making the effort.
If nothing else, the publicity surrounding any attempt to sanction a company selling an unproven remedy, and the likely outcry from devoted users, will bring greater attention to the discussion of what is or is not real scientific proof, and will make it more likely that pet owners will at least know that scientists and the government do not accept the manufacturer’s claims. I suspect there are significant limitations to what government regulation can accomplish in terms of protecting the public from ineffective medical therapies, but it can certainly serve as a source of reliable information and a “bully pulpit” for the science-based perspective.