Homeopathy in the House

July 19, 2019

Homeopathy isn’t discussed much in the halls of Congress. So when last month, a pro-homeopathy amendment was considered on the House floor, I thought it would be a good opportunity to peek at the man behind the congressional curtain.

Our longtime supporters will recall that, in 2015, former CFI Director of Government Affairs Michael DeDora testified to the FDA on the harmful, pseudoscientific nature of homeopathy. Out of that hearing came draft guidance outlining FDA’s plan to enforce its regulations on homeopathy using a “risk-based” approach. That is to say, the FDA will more or less only enforce its regulations on homeopathic products that are marketed for life-threatening diseases or on products that are improperly manufactured. Not only can homeopathic products be manufactured to whatever standard the industry wants, they can be marketed as drugs, with claims made to treat health ailments, so long as the products are not described as “FDA-approved.”

The perverse result of this policy is that homeopathic products face less regulation when marketed as a drug than other products do when marketed as dietary supplements. If you want to sell Vitamin C in the United States, you don’t have to prove that it effectively treats any health condition, but at least you have to prove to the FDA that the product is safe for directed use. Homeopathic manufacturers can sell products to treat health conditions without even clearing that low bar.

On June 26, the House debated an annual bill to fund the Food and Drug Administration and related agencies. During the debate, Representative Andy Biggs (R-AZ) introduced an amendment to prohibit the FDA from implementing its 2017 draft guidance on the enforcement of regulations for homeopathic products (here’s the video; sorry, I tried to embed it but WordPress just won’t cooperate). Rep. Biggs justified his amendment with a series of eye-rolling tropes that sound very similar to talking points we might expect to hear from the homeopathy industry, including the shamefully misleading assertion that homeopathic products could serve as an effective “natural” alternative to opioids in light of America’s ongoing addiction crisis.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), the ranking member of the subcommittee that oversees FDA funding, spoke in objection to the amendment. Ranking Member Fortenberry asked his Republican colleague to withdraw the amendment, promising that he and Chairman Sanford Bishop, Jr. (D-GA) would seek instead to discuss this “very important issue” with the FDA Commissioner. I don’t know if any deliberations occurred behind closed doors, but this seems like a compromise between the Chair and Ranking Member to stop the amendment while allowing Rep. Biggs to save face.

The next week, I met with subcommittee staff to educate them on the history and practice of homeopathy to ensure that the Chairman and Ranking Member enter any conversation with the FDA Commissioner with their eyes wide open about homeopathy’s 200-year-old scam.

In July 2018, CFI sued CVS Pharmacy for marketing homeopathic products in the District of Columbia as if these products were science-based. In May 2019, CFI sued Walmart for the same. Both suits are supported by the generosity of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.