MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a non-profit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered based in the US. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. The CFI has just issued a press-release about their legal action against Walmart. Here are some quotes from it:

Walmart is committing wide-scale consumer fraud and endangering the health of its customers though its sale and marketing of homeopathic medicines … the mega-retailer is deceiving consumers by making no meaningful distinction between real medicine and useless homeopathic treatments on its shelves and in its online store, misrepresenting homeopathy’s safety and efficacy.

Click here to access the official complaint (PDF).

CFI is currently engaged in a similar suit against CVS, the nation’s largest drug retailer, which was filed in June of 2018 and is still ongoing.

“Walmart sells homeopathics right alongside real medicines, in the same sections in its stores, under the same signs,” said Nicholas Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel. “Searches on its website for cold and flu remedies or teething products for infants yield pages full of homeopathic junk products. It’s an incredible betrayal of customers’ trust and an abuse of Walmart’s titanic retail power.”

“Walmart can’t claim it doesn’t know that homeopathy is snake oil, because it runs its own enormous pharmacy business and make its own homeopathic products,” said Little. “So whether it’s a scientifically proven remedy like aspirin or flatly denounced junk like homeopathic teething caplets for babies, Walmart sells all of it under its in-house ‘Equate’ branding. It’s all the same to Walmart.”

Choosing homeopathic treatments to the exclusion of evidence-based medicines can result in worsened or prolonged symptoms, and in some cases, even death. Several products have been found to contain poisonous ingredients which have affected tens of thousands of adults and children in just the last few years. As recently as May 14, the Food and Drug Administration issued warnings to five manufacturers of homeopathic products for numerous safety violations.

“Despite being among the richest corporations on Earth and the largest retailer in the United States, Walmart chooses to further pad its massive wealth by tricking consumers into throwing their money away on sham medicinal products that are scientifically proven to be useless and potentially dangerous,” said Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “We intend to put a stop to it.”

CFI has lobbied for tighter regulation of homeopathic products for many years, becoming the leading advocate for science-based medicine and against the proliferation of snake oil. In 2015 CFI was invited by the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission to provide expert testimony. As a result, the FTC declared in 2016 that the marketing of homeopathic products for specific diseases and symptoms is only acceptable if consumers are told: “(1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works and (2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.” Last year, the FDA announced a new “risk-based” policy of regulatory action against homeopathic products.

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I have long come to the conclusion that the dangers of homeopathy and other SCAMs should best be tackled legally. The medical case against many forms of SCAM has been clear for some time. They have been published a thousand times, yet these efforts have brought little progress in practice. Politicians tend to think in terms of their chances of re-election and thus often lack the resolve to act decisively. It is therefore now largely up to the legal professions to effectively protect consumers and patients from the many types of harm SCAM can do.

My hope is therefore that the action of the CFI against Walmart will be successful. More crucially, I hope that it will become a signal for activists from other countries to consider similar actions.

8 Responses to Walmart is being sued for selling homeopathic products

  • I was part of a team that fought big tobacco in Canada for a decade. (The never-ending fight is still going on, of course.) I see a number of parallel issues here.

    CFI is taking on companies with deep pockets. Expect the litigation to go on for years. The pharmacies cannot afford a precedent-setting loss so they will pour millions into its defence.

    I, too, hope CFI is successful but I fear we will not see a final judgment in my lifetime. And the costs will be astronomical. That will be an intentional strategy by the pharmacy/homeo side. They will try to litigate CFI out of existence.

    Also, expect to see a whole raft of new “Associations” that they want you to think are grassroots organizations. You can bet those will be funded heavily by a coalition of pharmacy giants and homeo-producing companies. And every one of those associations will have a 40-ish bald guy with a fat belly (the guy next door) claiming it’s about freedom of choice, not the need for the scams (he won’t actually say scams) to be effective. It’s a rights issue, he (they) will claim.

    Unless, of course, the pharmacies get a conscience.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    Sorry. Sometimes I’m too funny.

    Actually. . . Last year, a Canadian pharmacy pulled homeo products. Unethical, the owner said. (See bit.ly/Pharm_pulls_homeo).

    As well, there are some Canadian pharmacies putting out notices that the homeo remedies may not be all they’re cracked up to be. See this article by our good friend Dr. Joe at the McGill Office for Science and Society (“Separating Sense from Nonsense”): bit.ly/OSS_Homeo.

    Maybe something will happen. Who knows? Then again, maybe Jesus will come back, too.

    • Thank you for ypur dcade of valuable work Ron. Yes we see these tactics in many situations. The expense and slowness of deliberately drawn out legal proceedings are regularly misused.

      • There were about six or seven of us. Our group was responsible for raising taxes on tobacco (the single most effective way to cut consumption), getting smoking banned on airlines, legislation to protect minors, graphic warnings on packaging and much more.

        I can’t take too much credit. I represented one organization and was mostly a source of funding. The real work was done by the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association (in Canada) headed by, at the time, Gar Mahood and David Sweanor, two advocates who will always have my deepest admiration.

        Now, if we can just get the woo woo out of the pharmacies. . .

    • @John Benneth

      Mr Benneth, yet again you demonstrate to us that you haven’t a clue about how real science is performed and communicated. If someone has data purporting to show that homeopathy ‘works’ for treating malaria, those data need to be formally written up, peer reviewed and accepted for publication in a (preferably) respectable science or medical journal.

      The report needs to inform the reader exactly how the data were obtained and how they were analysed. There’s an old joke about a chalk scrawl on a blackboard in an academic institution: “e=mc^2”. Someone else had chalked below, “Very nice, Dr Einstein, but you need to show us your workings out”.

      In future please don’t insult our intelligence by linking to a YouTube video as evidence for homeopathy efficacy!

      • Come on, Frank. If it’s on YouTube, it must be true.

        Actually, when I read @John Benneth’s post, I thought he was making fun of Ms. Thompson’s video (I don’t know Mr. Benneth or his position on these things). I mean, who would seriously refer to a YouTube video as proof of anything?

        Oh, that’s right. People do it all the time. Silly me.

      • Uganda seems to be a veritable playground for make-believe medicine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3F8DerZBXy8

        I know it’s a Youtube video, but this time it comes from a credible source.

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