Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A victory for stupidity

That's the only way to describe the pulling of the Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill. The bill would have brought some basic consumer protections to the alternative medicines industry - for example, ensuring that these products actually work, or at the very least don't kill people. Sure, it had flaws - notably that the regulatory agency it established would not have been subject to the Official Information Act - but these could have been fixed, and pale in comparison to the present regime which allows people (unscrupulous or otherwise) to sell unproven or even unsafe products, and make claims about them which would be considered false advertising if made by, say, a popular fruit drink.

The irony here of course is that the people who have opposed this bill and the introduction of basic safety standards are the same people who demand that food origins be certified down to the individual paddock to prevent contamination by GE material, advocate tougher regulation and testing of food and prescription medicines, demand high thresholds for the safety of vaccines, and (rightly) scream bloody murder if a large company uses a probably safe, but unapproved product in baby formula. But all of that concern goes out the window when it comes to alternative medicines, in favour of a mindless assertion that "if it's herbal, it's OK". The hypocrisy is simply breathtaking.

(And lest anyone think I'm ignoring them, some people also opposed the bill on the basis that forcing the alternative medicines industry to ensure that its products worked and were safe would "expand bureaucracy" and impose "unnecessary compliance costs". In other words, they support the right of businesses to rip off and even kill their customers. These people are simply evil).

I support strong product safety and consumer protection standards, particularly in the case of medicines where sick and desperate people may be exploited into buying ineffective products on hope. I think that people have, at minimum, a right to know what they are taking, and what (if anything) it will do to them - whether it will work, and what the potential risks and side effects might be. For all its flaws, the Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill would have helped significantly in that area. Unfortunately, due to the opposition of people I can only describe as flakes, our protections in this area will remain inadequate.