CAM delegation given brush-off at emergency ASA meeting

A joint delegation from the Alliance for Natural Health International (ANH-Intl) and the Complementary Medicine Association (CMA) says it was given the brush-off when it met with the Advertising Standards Authority last week (Friday July 29).

The emergency meeting had been called by the two bodies to discuss the ASA’s recent clampdown on CAM advertising and health claims on practitioner websites. The CMA says that many of its members have received “threatening” letter from the ASA leading to some concluding that they will have to close their practices.

But at the meeting, the ANH-Intl/CMA delegation says its concerns were “brushed off” by the ASA representatives who told them “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.”

When the delegation questioned the ASA on its competency in the area of health and practitioner-patient interactions, its team reportedly gave “defensive” answers and failed to demonstrate that scientifically qualified staff had been involved in its investigations and rulings on CAM practitioners.

ANH-Intl’s Dr Robert Verkerk said after the meeting: “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. Human metabolism is complex enough, yet you have another dimension of complexity when you’re looking at the practitioner–patient relationship.”

Commenting on what he called the “non-transparent procedure used by the ASA”, Verkerk 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.”

CMA president, 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.”

The two groups representing CAM liken the ASA’s approach — which they describe as being “in conjunction with that of the anti-CAM skeptic group, the Nightingale Collaboration” — to be akin to a “witch-hunt” against CAM practitioners.

“If the basis of adjudications was transparent and took into account the full gamut of evidence, we would not be so concerned,” added Jayney Goddard, “but what we have here is an independent watchdog that appears incompetent to evaluate the field of CAM. Not only that, but the ASA is now dealing with a greatly increased level of complaints from the over-zealous, CAM-skeptic Nightingale Collaboration.  Practitioner–patient relationships can’t, unfortunately, be evaluated in the same way as roofs and guttering.”