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EDITORIAL: It’s just water

Taking half measures is always the easy way out, and Health Canada provided a perfect example of it last week.

On Friday, the health regulator quietly issued new rules about labelling on homeopathic products. Specifically, it ordered that labelling on homeopathic “nosodes” must clearly state that the product is not a vaccine. It also stipulated that claims of a product’s effectiveness to treat cold and flus in children must be scientifically proven.

As Tom Blackwell reported in the National Post Monday, the moves do little to mitigate the fact that Health Canada has approved 8,500 homeopathic “remedies” over the past 10 years.

“Reaction to the changes was mixed in the science-based health-care world Tuesday, as some lauded the government for taking a positive step, others saying the changes only underscore the folly of approving homeopathic preparations at all,” Blackwell wrote.

Indeed, allowing homeopathic products to sit on pharmacy shelves next to real medicine is deceptive at best. Most members of the public are unlikely to be swayed by lame disclaimers if they think the product holds the promise to cure what ails them.

What’s perhaps so baffling is that the rules suggest some homeopathic remedies may still pass muster, as if the science is not already in. The watery dilutions have already been proven useless several times over in the past. There is no scientific basis, period.

McGill science professor Joe Schwarcz said he’s bewildered by the measures, especially by the distinction drawn between adults and children on cold and flu products.

“Does this mean that if you’re over the age of 12, it’s OK to make false claims?” he said to the Post.

“To me, this is just not logical.”

The problem, as The Globe and Mail’s health reporter André Picard wrote in March, is that half measures and regulations only serve to lend credibility to homeopathy. And that, in turn, may steer some patients away from effective treatments — especially vaccines.

“The problem is that these actions of government lend a veneer of legitimacy to homeopathy,” Picard wrote. “If products are approved by Health Canada and the people ‘prescribing’ them are regulated by the province, the public can be forgiven for thinking homeopaths are as legitimate as physicians who prescribe prescription drugs. That amounts to aiding and abetting fraud.”

It’s high time Health Canada took a bold step and knocked this snake oil off pharmacy shelves altogether.

Because if pretend medicine is put next to the real thing, many people will still fall for it.

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