The meeting was attended by representatives of the Alliance for Natural Health International (ANH-I) and the Complementary Medical Association (CMA) who told NutraIngredients the ASA “was guarded and defensive” about its methods and suggestion it broaden the pool of experts it employs to guide its adjudications in the CAM area.
“They refused to say who the experts are and were dismissive of our concerns,” said ANH-I scientific and chief executive officer Robert Verkerk, PhD. “We wanted a dialogue but we didn’t get that. There are many in the CAM industry who have received aggressive letters since the ASA began digital monitoring in March, and who have sent scientific data backing claims in response, which the ASA has failed to engage. So we are calling for more transparency in this process.”
ASA: “We have not seen evidence”
The ASA’s Matt Wilson disputed the ANH-I and CMA accusations. “ANH-I and CMA misrepresents our work with the sector, so we will publish the letters we have sent to practitioners on our website today,” he said, adding, “The ASA is responsible for ensuring advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful. Unfortunately, we have not seen evidence to support claims that homeopathy is effective in treating any specific health condition.”
“This means that following the extension of our remit, such marketing claims must be removed from websites. We know that this is a big change for many advertisers in this sector, which is why we have provided constructive advice in our communications. We have been even-handed in our approach, giving website owners the space and time to comply with the rules.”
Dr Verkerk said his group and CMA had become increasingly concerned about CAM rulings as they have come through.
“They have their investigators who determine when experts are required but we are concerned these investigators do not have sufficient scientific knowledge of the CAM sector to begin the process.”
"You don’t need to worry"
At Friday’s meeting ASA head of investigations Vena Raffle said: “You don’t need to worry. This is what we do. We deal with advertising complaints in all areas from roofing to guttering. We can’t be experts in everything, but we work to standards across all areas.”
Dr Verkerk said in a statement that CAM was wholly more complex matter than roofing or guttering, and even went beyond the “limited and reductionist” data that often appeared in often disease-oriented, peer-reviewed literature.
“Evaluating the extremely complex processes that occur when practitioners and patients interact is not something that we think can be done by a non-scientist,” he said. “Human metabolism is complex enough, yet you have another dimension of complexity when you’re looking at the practitioner–patient relationship.”
He added: “I was astounded to find that the ASA appeared to have no comprehensive and transparent system of evaluation. It evaluates complaints in isolation, using only the evidence given to them by the advertiser.The ASA also told us that no practitioners had given evidence in response to a complaint, whereas both ANH-Intl and the CMA are aware of evidence having been submitted.”
"Threatened and intimidated"
The Nightingale Collaboration, a UK group that targets claims, had been particularly aggressive against CAM practitioners, and had alerted the ASA to many CAM operators, the groups said.
CMA’s Jayney Goddard said: “We have asked our members how they feel when they get a letter from the ASA and many feel threatened and intimidated, with some being concerned that they may be sent to jail if they don’t comply. It’s not surprising that some practitioners feel they have no option but to shut down their practice.”
“If the basis of adjudications was transparent and took into account the full gamut of evidence, we would not be so concerned,” added Goddard, “but what we have here is an independent watchdog that appears incompetent to evaluate the field of CAM.”