Out of Australia - The Australian federal consumer protection authority (the ACCC, which also enforces trade practices laws more broadly) has come down hard on a homeopathy website (Homeopathy Plus!) for engaging in misleading and deceptive advertising. The website made claims that the whooping cough vaccine was ineffective and listed a number of homeopathic remedies it claimed were an alternative.http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/1049609/fromItemId/142
From the ACCC media release:“The combination of claims that the vaccine was ineffective and that the homeopathic remedies listed on the page were an alternative prevention and treatment regime elevated this matter to one of extreme concern,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.
The ACCC examined content on the Homeopathy Plus! website following a complaint from the medical profession. The ACCC considered that the Homeopathy Plus! claims that the current whooping cough vaccine is dangerous and ineffective, while the homeopathic remedy is a proven and safe alternative, were likely to be misleading or deceptive.
Reliance on these claims may influence consumers to avoid the whooping cough vaccine and rely solely on the homeopathic approach for treatment and prevention of whooping cough, which is strongly discouraged by medical professionals. Whooping cough is a serious respiratory infection which can cause a long coughing illness and is life threatening for babies.
The fact that the ACCC (and the Australian Federal Court which ultimately makes the decision) made these findings is huge. To my knowledge this is the first time in Australia that homeopathy has been busted for misleading and deceptive advertising. This is a great precedence!
Sure it doesn't look like the company was fined, or is prevented from supplying the homeopathic product/s. But I think the very fact that a decision was made is important, and essentially puts a line in a sand.
So there seems to a bit of history to this story. See this website: http://theconversation.edu.au/do-you-want-evidence-with-that-6154.
Bascially the Therapeutic Goods Association (the regulator of medicines and therapeutic goods in Australia, like the FDA I think) in 2011 determined that the website was making homepathic claims unsupported by evidence and made a number of requests to alter their advertising. The website ignored the request/warnings, but that TGA didnt take any legal action.
The ACCC began investigating based on complaints from the medical profession (rather than TGA), with assistance from the Therapeutic Goods Association. This is similar to the Power Band action, where it began from people like the Australian Skeptics who then made complaints to the ACCC.
To me, this story shows a number of important things. Firstly, when the regulator fails to get it done (or lacks legal powers), quackery can still be tackled through misleading business practice law. Secondly, this case (just like the Power Balance case) was instigated from the the community (in this case the medical profession). This shows to me the importance of raising awareness of these issues, such as through skepticism!
Australia is more and more becoming a bit of a frontier with battling quackery through legal means. I wonder why more countries aren't utilising misleading advertising powers to combat quackery? Perhaps there are differences in laws, and its not as easy, or perhaps the relevant authorities are choosing not to take action.