More calls for homoeopathy cause concern
By Marianne Curtis
A GROWING organic sector is likely to mean increasing demand for homoeopathic medicines. However, regulations governing their prescription and lack of official trial results are causing industry-wide concern.
Cheshire-based vet Neil Howie of the Nantwich Vet Group is particularly concerned. "In the past 18 months, several of our clients have been using homoeopathic products. If we as vets say we are not interested, we are turning our back on these clients and I dont want to do that."
But regulations on homeopathy and who can practise it are also far from clear, as Mr Howie has discovered. He is particularly worried about the fact that homoeopathic products are not licensed, and whether or not he is allowed to prescribe them.
Lack of product regulation also concerns cattle vet Richard Sibley. "Every conventional medicine must go through trials to demonstrate its safety, quality and efficacy. It is difficult to obtain efficacy data for homoeopathic remedies.
"It should be possible to conduct trials on them in the same way as for conventional medicines, but I suspect suppliers arent willing to bear the expense."
Former president of the Homoeopathic Vets Group, John Saxton, disagrees. "When research centres have been approached about trialing homoeopathic remedies, they have refused. Trialing requires a different approach from conventional medicines, which cant be agreed."
Mr Howie blames the Veterinary Medicines Directorate for the lack of clarity regarding homoeopathy. Despite being in contact with it over the issue for 18 months he says he has not received a satisfactory reply.
But there is no reason why vets cant practise homoeopathy says Di Sinclair of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons professional conduct department.
"There are quite a few vets practising homoeopathy, which is legal. However, the new guide to professional conduct, published this week, says that vets wishing to practice complementary therapies must undergo proper training."
She adds that producers should be sceptical about using products bought from an unqualified person. Mr Saxton agrees that in the wrong hands, homoeopathy can make a disease situation worse.
"Although there is a belief that homeopathy cant do any harm, it is not 100% safe. For example, nosodes – a dilution of the causative disease agent – used to treat mastitis can make it worse and send cell counts through the roof when over-used. The dosage must be correct."
However, often producers have no alternative but to purchase products themselves because there is a shortage of vets practising homoeopathy, says Mr Saxton.
"There are about 150-200 vets trained in homoeopathy with 50 currently training. But client demand for homoeopathy has increased by about 50% in the last five years and the profession is struggling to meet it."
But Mr Sibley is concerned about escalating use of homoeopathy. "Where I have seen homoeopathy used it has failed dismally. The massive expansion of organic herds has led to its promotion, when conventional treatments would be more effective."
One Devon dairy producer who wont be using homoeopathy in future is Trevor Cligg. "When we began organic conversion two years ago we decided to try a nosode treatment for mastitis. In the following few weeks we had several new cases but when we stopped treatment, cases declined.
"There doesnt seem to be any quality control; none of the products have batch numbers so when something goes wrong, it cannot be traced to a faulty batch."
But Joanne Beresford who runs a 250-cow herd in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire is convinced of the benefits of homoeopathy. "I was sceptical to begin with but it has so far worked for treating calf scour, pneumonia and mastitis."
• Lack of regulation.
• No efficacy trial data.
• Vets must now be trained.