A couple of years ago, I was very involved in an effort to get the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to publically acknowledge that homeopathy has been proven to have no value beyond placebo effects and to discourage its use in animals. This was modeled on the successful effort of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) to institute a similar statement. Despite the overwhelming evidence, support from some veterinary groups, and even the acknowledgement of the AVMA’s own Council on Research that there is no evidence to support the use of homeopathy, the AVMA caved to political expediency and monetary interests, and the resolution was defeated.
Since then, there have been a number of positive developments in the struggle against this dangerous superstition. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reviewing the exception to safe drug regulations that homeopathy has by historical accident, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has expressed concerns about the inherent fraud in advertising an ineffective medical treatment. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has published an extensive and rigorous review which concluded, like the British House of Commons Science and Technology Committee review before it, that homeopathy doesn’t work. The U.K. National Health Service (NHS) appears poised to ban use of homeopathy under the national healthcare system.
Several systematic reviews, written by avowed advocates for homeopathy, have failed to find any reliable evidence for benefits in veterinary patients despite decades of use and research (e.g 1, 2). And recently the power of the evidence and the recognition of the danger to veterinary patients has led to two different campaigns in the U.K. to limit the veterinary use of homeopathy.
The first is an open letter to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and a petition asking for a ban on the veterinary use of homeopathy. The letter begins by reminding the RCVS of the evidence that homeopathy has no real clinical effects, and then makes the following case:
…we believe the use of homeopathic remedies by veterinary surgeons is potentially dangerous for several reasons.
The biggest danger of homeopathy is not that the remedies are ineffective, but that some homeopaths are of the opinion that their therapies can substitute for genuine medical treatment. This is at best misleading, and at worst may lead to unnecessary suffering and death…Members of the public put their trust in veterinary surgeons because they assume that their medical knowledge and training was gained during an accredited degree at an accredited university. They do not assume that they will be offered the veterinary surgeon’s personal beliefs in therapies that have absolutely no basis in science…
We would argue that permitting veterinary surgeons to prescribe homeopathic remedies is severely contrary to the public and animal health interest. In our opinion, homeopaths should not be able to use their membership of the RCVS to promote either the validity of the treatment or the fee for it.
The health of animals is totally in the hands of the humans charged with their care, so it would appear to be unethical to withhold mainstream medicine and inflict alternatives on creatures that have no choice in the matter.
To summarise, we believe the RCVS should not allow members to prescribe homeopathy because:
it is an animal welfare issue
it devalues conventional treatments
it devalues conventional qualifications
it undermines public confidence in mainstream medicine
it would differentiate veterinary surgeons from unlicensed healers
the veterinary profession would take a lead, forging the way for our human medical counterparts to do the same.
This effort includes a public petition supporting the campaign, and I urge everyone to SIGN HERE.
The second independent effort, also in the U.K., is the Campaign for Rational Veterinary Medicine. This campaign also begins by acknowledging the indisputable scientific evidence that homeopathy is useless and petitioning the RCVS to change policy. However, rather than a ban, the Campaign for Rational Veterinary Medicine has a more limited set of objectives in its petition:
I ask that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS):
- Produces a public position statement on homeopathy
EXAMPLE: The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has reviewed the evidence concerning homeopathy and concluded that it is ineffective in animals.
Homeopathic remedies have not been, and are not, subject to the same testing of efficacy, safety and quality as conventional medical products.
It has been demonstrated that some people respond to homeopathic treatment because of their belief in it (the so-called ‘placebo’ effect), and the College recognises that people who have benefited in this way may wish to try homeopathy on their animals.
Animals cannot respond to treatment because of their belief in a treatment, so they cannot benefit from the placebo effect.
In addition, there is proven existence of the ‘caregiver placebo effect’, where an owner (or indeed a veterinary surgeon) believes that the animal is responding to treatment when in fact they are not.
For the above reasons, the College considers it unethical to use homeopathy as a first line treatment in animals, or in place of treatment based on proven medicines and rational scientific principles.
2. Requires veterinary surgeons who prescribe homeopathic remedies to get owners to sign a consent form, prepared by the College, giving the College’s views on the ineffectiveness of homeopathy.
3. Enforces the requirement that veterinary surgeons abide by the Advertising Standards Authority regulations concerning the advertising of medical treatments.
4. Requires that advertising or promotion of homeopathy by a veterinary surgeon is accompanied by an abbreviated version of the RCVS position statement.
EXAMPLE: The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has reviewed the evidence concerning homeopathy and concluded that it is ineffective in animals. It should not be used as a first line treatment, or in place of treatment based on proven medicines and rational scientific principles.
The Campaign for Rational Veterinary Medicine is also focusing its efforts more narrowly, on veterinarians licensed in the U.K. under the RCVS.
Both of these efforts reflect a growing awareness that homeopathy is not only medically useless but actively dangerous and deceptive and that it is unethical to offer it to veterinary patients. The only reason that such a practice has persisted into the era of scientific medicine is through the power of belief over reason and the political and economic forces that prevent sensible regulation to prevent selling unproven or ineffective therapies to patients. While I am cautious in my expectations for these campaigns, I am thrilled to see others taking up the cause, and I absolutely support these efforts. If they are successful, perhaps the AVMA will finally be sufficiently embarrassed by the prospective of the U.S. being the last major developed nation to protect veterinary patients from this superstition and will again consider taking a stand.