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.
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.
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.