TGA fact over fiction – email your Senator

Fact over fiction bannerProposed laws could see dangerous and potentially misleading claims on therapeutic goods, especially complementary and alternative medicines like herbal and homeopathic treatments.

It means that products can claim to decrease the time it takes to fall asleep or help maintain healthy heart function without having scientific evidence to back their claims.

If this legislation isn’t stopped by 25 June 2018, products like these will be allowed to be sold in chemists and supermarkets.

Tell Senators to knock back these laws so that Australians looking for vitamins and supplements can separate fact from fiction.

These laws arose from a 2015 review into medicines and medical devices. The review recommended that when making product claims, therapeutic goods companies must choose from a list of pre-approved claims.

It also recommended that there needed to be a disclaimer alongside claims to communicate to consumers that the efficacy of the product had not been independently assessed and/or is based on traditional use.

While the Federal Government agreed to this recommendation, it was not implemented in the way it was envisaged. Rather than a concise list of claims backed by scientific evidence, the list is long and contains 1,017 claims for companies to use. Even more worryingly, only 140 of the claims are backed by scientific evidence. For the remaining 879 claims, evidence of ‘traditional’ use is sufficient; that is, use for more than three generations in an alternative medical tradition such as traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda or homeopathy.

Loose regulation of product claims on therapeutic goods only serves to benefit industry players. In 2013, Swisse’s ‘Ultiboost Appetite Suppressant’ was de-listed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) due to ‘insufficient evidence to support the claims on the product’.

Within the same year, Swisse then re-listed the exact same product, changing the label to include a ‘traditional use’ qualifier, to evade the requirement that claims are to be based on scientific evidence.

Australia is a multicultural country and it is appropriate that we respect and allow access to alternative medical traditions. However, it is also important that Australians are protected from misleading claims.  For consumers to be able to make an informed choice about complementary medicines, products displaying traditional use indications should also be required to display a prominent disclaimer on the label to the effect of:

“This product’s traditional claims are based on alternative health practices that are not accepted by most modern medical experts. There is no good scientific evidence that this product works.”

This is in line with disclaimers used by the US Federal Trade Commission for homeopathic products.

In May this year, CHOICE went to Parliament House to deliver hundreds of vitamin bottles and lollies labelled with the claims vitamin companies are able to get away with under these proposed laws. The vitamin bottles we handed out are full of sugary lollies, urging Senators to stop sour claims and support scientific evidence in therapeutic goods.

Katinka Day from CHOICE standing outside Parliament House