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Thanks to a correspondent for alerting me to a medical emergency in France.

You can read the press release here, from Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Produits de Santé (AFSSAPS, the French equivalent of the MHRA or FDA).



Withdrawal of batches of Gingko biloba and Equisetum arvense


AFSSAPS has been informed by Laboratoires Boiron of an inversion of the labelling of two homeopathic medicaments, The bottles labelled “mother tincture of Gingko biloba” contain mother tincture of Equisetum arvense and vice versa

;. . .

“AFSSAPS has said that this mix-up does not pose any particular risk . . .”
. . .
“Laboratoires Boiron has asked pharmacists who stock these homeopathic medicaments to report, as far as possible, the inversion of labelling to any doctors in their neighbourhood who may have prescribed these items between May and October 2007.”

How would they know, given that the final diluted products are identical, whatever the label? No doubt AFSSAPS are just following the rules. This just shows the absurdities that can occur when you start to allow official ‘regulation’ of witchcraft.

This gem brings to mind the interchange between Lord Broers and Ms Kate Chatfield of the Society of Homeopaths, as recorded in the minutes of evidence to the Select Committee on Science and Technology .

Q538 Lord Broers: I have a simple, technical question about homeopathy and drugs. Is it possible to distinguish between homeopathic drugs after they have been diluted? Is there any means of distinguishing one from the other?

Ms Chatfield: Only by the label.


You can read a lovely analysis of the views of Kate Chatfield here. She works at the University of Central Lancashire, where she is module leader for what the university, disgracefully, calls a “Bachelor of Science Degree” in Homeopathic Medicine. That is the university that refuses to reveal to the public what it is that they are teaching in these courses. I’m still waiting for the result of my appeal to the Information Commisioner: watch this space.

In contrast, Mike Eslea’s pages on pseudoscience are also from the University of Central Lancashire. They are very well worth reading.

Tnanks to the Breath Spa blog for drawing attention to the Broers – Chatfield interchange, in an excellent posting: ” Discouraging News from the Review of Allergy and Intolerance: Homeopathy Means We Need to Rewrite Textbooks”.

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17 Responses to Attention mes amis! Homeopathic emergency in France!

  • I will try to follow this story up. As you may know, homeopathic preparations are licensed by the AFSSAPS, without the need to demonstrate efficacy. Nevertheless, rationality has recovered some ground recently. Firstly, the price of homeopathic preparations has been fixed since 1988, and since 2004, only 35% of this is reimbursed by social security. (Information from Boiron http://www.boiron.com/en/htm/homeopathy-today/homeopathy-regulation.htm)
    Now due to a huge deficit, there are moves to make patients pay a fixed amount on each prescription, which will wipe out the social security reimbursement of homeopathy. Needless to say, Boiron and the others are moaning about this.

  • Thanks -it is really interesting to know about the rules in other countries. So far, the EU has not been very helpful with crackpot medicine.

    Boiron say “In Europe, the harmonisation of the legislation on homeopathic medicine marked a turning point: it constitutes official recognition of homeopathic medicine in all EU countries.”

  • Sorry, no pithy response to this, too busy alternately banging my head on the desk and rolling on the floor cackling with helpless laughter.

    To quote a popular journalistic cliche: you couldn’t make it up.

    And apparently neither can Boiron – or rather, dilute it down.

  • In one of the more beautiful ironies of the homeopathic world, you have to wonder what sort of quality control goes on inside companies like Helios of Nelsons? I mean, how did the French authorities know that the wrong label had been put on? How does anyone know? Homeopathic manufacturing methods must be just about the only industrial process in the world where the QA department is testing that their product has been made completely ineffective.

    And assuming that they do QA of course.

    But, what worries me, is that if they do bother with all the ‘shaky shake’ stuff, is that, at the start, there are some pretty nasty substances involved. Do they test for the presence of the nasties are the end? Can they guarantee their machines work?

    Blithering idiocy and dangerous to boot.

  • My French isn’t too good, but from this (linked to from the press release):

    http://afssaps.sante.fr/htm/alertes/filalert/md071003.htm

    it appears that what they are withdrawing is mother tinctures (I assume “teinture-mère” means mother tincture). I can’t see any mention of potentised remedies there. Can anyone with better French confirm this?

  • To Mojo,

    Yes, it’s the mother tinctures that were mixed up. From what I understand of the way Boiron operates, the mother tinctures are prepared in Lyon, then batches are sent out to the different regional centres (we have one here in Nantes) who carry out the dilutions with the patented Boiron “sprinkle the diluted drops on the sugar granules three times instead of just once” procedure. Their QA consists of a paper trail that is supposed to guarantee traceability of diluted “remedies” back to the relevant tinctures, so I guess (although I haven’t looked to check) that the lot numbers of the tincture are given on the boxes of granules. The AFSAPPS alert was sent to pharmacists inviting them to warn physicians who may have prescribed the two products, and patients who consumed one or other of the two products.

    I have been unable to find any follow-up on this story. The press release was copied on several health and health insurance sites, but that’s it. Since then it’s just sunk without trace, and no-one has written anything in the medical (or mainstream) press pointing out the blindingly obvious fact that no-one noticed the difference over the 5 months of this inadvertent double-blind trial.

  • Lamentably poor effort at a pun approaching:

    I suppose the correct containment vessel for a mother tincture would be ‘the mother of all bottles’?

    inexcusable, I know, couldn’t resist.

  • The real laugh comes further on when a caveat is given that “Cela n’exclut pas toutefois des effets éventuels liés à une hypersensibilité à ces plantes.” This appears to mean that they cannot exclude adverse reactions from individuals with hypersensitivity to a non-existent content – perhaps someone could make a better translation.

  • I agree that a double blind experiment of this sort should, if the potency of homeopathic medicine as claimed is true, have produced noticeable effects. In the absence of these we have, unintended, a wonderful example of how useless homeopathy is. I wonder if there is any way of finding out how many of each were prescribed?

  • That’s a good point. But I can’t imagine that Boiron would be enthusiastic about saying that nobody noticed the swap.

  • Not related to homeopathy, but I thought I’d comment just to let you know that Wifi madness has crossed the channel and is now getting some serious (err, that is to say, extensive) media attention here. It stems from staff at four public libraries in Paris suffering a variety of symptoms after a Wifi network was set up in their workplace. As any sensible person would expect, similar symptoms did not break out (at least not so far) in the few dozen other sites equipped with the same Wifi environment.
    The same morning, the radio carried a story on ambulance-chasing lawyers bringing a suit against Sanofi-Pasteur (now Aventis I guess) for causing multiple sclerosis in their clients by vaccinating against hepatitis B. It looks lilke Wakefield;MMR;autism all over again, but the names have been changed.

    I suppose one could try to predict the next manifestation of this particular type of irrationalism by filling in the blanks;

    Vaccine of your choice – preferably novel.
    Worrying idiopathic disease – the scarier the better.

    So my choice for the next vaccine scare is the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer. I wonder what the pathology putatively induced by this vaccine will turn out to be?

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