It is always interesting, and sometimes hilarious, when Complementary Medicine proponents slip up, especially when it is on national TV. As we all know, these people try their utmost best to lobby just about everyone in order to increase the sales of their, mostly ineffective, products. Asian countries are now being targeted by Australian companies such as Blackmores and Swisse, with the latter even sponsoring the ABC’s international network giving them exclusive advertising rights in Asian countries. Contrary to this rather shocking revelation, the ABC’s program ‘Four Corners’ took an in-depth look at the vitamin and supplement industry in Australia, and reported, unsurprisingly, that most of their products are unproven (although, disproven might have been a better term to use) – you can find the full transcript of the program here.
At the end of the program Carl Gibson, the CEO of Complementary Medicine Australia (CMA), responded to plans to reform the regulation of Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAMs) in Australia, by having it independently tested and labelled accordingly. In other words; this product has been tested and it was found that it does not work! One can imagine that a company like Blackmores, who has recently donated $10 million to the National Institute of Complimentary Medicine (NICM), will not approve of this idea, as this implies that they will have to label 90% plus of their products as ineffective. But only if their products are truly independently tested. And hence, the CAM industry is in all likelihood lobbying with the NICM, for the latter to become this ‘independent’ testing facility.
The problem is rather obvious, the NICM is not independent at all. They receive huge sums of money from the CAM industry, they are listed as an associate organisation of the CMA, they sponsor organisations such as the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association who peddles all sorts of disproven and unproven CAMs, and in return Carl Gibson sits on the NICMs advisory board, whereas the Directors of the Blackmores Institute are both listed as adjuncts of the NICM etc. etc. A very good example of their inability to accept that a specific CAM simply does not work, is Carl Gibson’s rather aggressive response to the NHMRC’s report that Homeopathy is ineffective. The NICM published a more measured but similar response. They just won’t accept the NHMRC’s recommendations regarding homeopathy – you can read their response here. Surely, there are some serious question marks around the NICMs independence?
But having said that, all of these organisations and people work in unison by lobbying extremely hard to be able to expand their range of mostly ineffective products, specifically targeting Asian countries. That this is exactly what they are up to, can be seen by Carl’s little slip-up. The whole program was about the unproven and disproven nature of the CAM industry’s products and this is what he had to say about it. Here is an unedited excerpt from the transcript:
“GEOFF THOMPSON: Lobbying continues against any labelling system which would make unproven products look bad.
CARL GIBSON: We have a growing international trade. So if you’re an Asian consumer and you pick up 2 products identical and the NZ product doesn’t have that disclaimer and our does I think you’re actually disadvantaging the Australians.
ASSOC. PROFESSOR KEN HARVEY: The challenge will be to see who wins. Will industry lobbying destroy any reform yet again or will the weight of time, the pressure from consumer groups and health professional groups and others actually mean that this time, something might happen? I’m not holding my breath.”
So, what does Carl Gibson say? – allow me to translate. “We know damn well that most of our products does not work and hence, that it should not be sold to the public. But, we don’t give a hoot because it is all about money, and if we don’t bullshit the Asians, somebody else will!”
It will be interesting to see how these regulation reforms will unfold over the next couple of months or maybe years, and how the different role players will try and influence the process. But, like Prof Harvey said, we should not hold our breaths for any significant reforms!