So, I received this flier from my organic certifying body, Organic Farmers & Growers (or OF&G) which promoted an organisation called ‘Homeopathy at Wellie Level’ (see the text under ‘H.A.W.L. flier text’ link. I haven’t worked out how to post a PDF link yet, sorry).
Inspired by various people including the S.G.U., Skeptics with a K and Ottawa Skeptics (All top notch and entertaining skeptical podcasts) I decided that further investigations were needed.
I was fairly amazed that such a thing existed. I am well versed in Homeopathy for human use and just assumed that the placebo effect wouldn’t work on animals (thanks to various podcasts who have corrected me on this). Below is a text of the email exchange that I had with the Chief Executive of the OF&G. I instigated this back and forth as I felt it should be made clear to everybody involved in animal health, and responsible for promoting best practice in farming, of the efficacy of Homeopathy.
Initial response to the promotional email:-
Dear Angela (This was my first point of contact with the organisation)
It would be prudent of the OF&G not to promote this kind of event as the association with your organisation will call into question your credibility on all matters of animal health where you provide any advice or set standards
As one of the key points of organic farming is to promote animal welfare, promoting the use of medicines with absolutely no measurable benefit and with no active compounds will have a net negative effect on overall welfare and opens us all up to ridicule and, additionally, accusations of harmful practice especially from the national media
I appreciate that you are just passing this on, however I urge you to have a look into this matter with more depth. There are many studies with proper blinded trials that demonstrate efficacy of homeopathy to be no better than placebo (and obviously with animals there is not even that effect)
Response from Richard Jacobs, OF&G Chief Executive:-
Dear Mr Crowe
Thank you for your email, which Angela has passed to me for a response.
I do agree with you that the efficacy or otherwise of homoeopathy is the subject of some contention and it is certainly not our place to recommend this or any other form of treatment to our farmers, that is the province of the qualified professionals, the vets. However, we are aware that we do have many organic livestock farmers that do use homoeopathy and they assert that it is effective. I therefore believe it is appropriate for us to pass on details of events that may be of interest to some of our farmers.
At OF&G we take our responsibility as an organic certification body very seriously and we are very aware of the potential for negative media attention, particularly in the area of animal health and welfare on organic farms, which must be up there with the best at all times. We make a point, regardless of the treatment regimes used by our farmers, to always look closely at health and welfare and I have to say that we find the vast majority of our farmers are doing an excellent job of looking after their animals, some use homoeopathy and some don’t.
I have no desire to bring ridicule on OF&G or our clients and I do not believe that we risk doing so by passing on details of events such as these. We will always act where we have concerns about animal health and welfare, our inspectors are very active in this respect and I am confident that we can, if called upon to do so, adequately defend any treatment regime used where the result is healthy animals. Equally we will be the first to act should we find problems with health and welfare, again this is regardless of the treatments used.
I am very grateful to you for contacting us with your view, I would rather hear about what you think we are doing wrong than not hear from you at all, and I do hope that I have gone some way to reduce your concerns on this specific issue. If I have failed to do that or you wish to discuss this or any other matter further please do contact me as I would welcome that.
Dear Mr Crowe
Thank you for coming back to me and please accept my apology for the delay in replying.
I take on board the points that you make, and I appreciate you taking the time to make them. This is clearly a controversial issue and you have voiced a legitimate concern that we need to be aware of.
I regard the last email as a ‘parking maneuver’ which I respect as this discussion could go on for sometime and I’m sure he is very busy. With any luck a ‘seed has been sown’ to use Dr Novella’s expression and some thought will be applied to other issues that relate to Homeopathy and organic farming, not least Nosodes which I will cover in a future post.
The main reason I am publishing this exchange (without permission, but I do not regard any of its content as reflecting badly on the OF&G or its employees) is so that we as interested observers of how these modalities proliferate can see the mindset that allows the hardcore advocates to exploit the indifference of anyone not engaged in active critical thinking.
If anyone is in doubt as to why anyone should promote something that doesn’t work then a quick look around the internet shows Veterinary practices, treatment manufacturers and training courses all of which employ people and provide a living for those who exploit non-specialists in this area. I am not suggesting that those individuals do it fraudulently (although I’m sure some do) but sitting quietly and accepting treatment practices which cost money and do nothing is unacceptable. It causes harm (in this case to animals) and generally adds to the overall background noise of approval for unproven alternative medicines. In time and unchecked this noise will become the mainstream voice and then we are all in deep, deep slurry.
This particular organisation has received the support of HRH The Prince of Woo, sorry, Wales. His letter can be viewed here: http://www.hawl.co.uk/fileadmin/HAWL/templates/powletter.htm . Everybody in the UK is aware of the broad influence that HRH has and is entirely unapologetic for. It is unfortunate that in this instance he has become so misguided by the advice he has received there is very little chance that he can be brought back to reality especially as it compliments an overall worldview that is anti-technology and anti-human development. However, this particular post isn’t a rant against HRH and his influence (a future one might be) I mention it purely to demonstrate how powerful the advocates are and how deeply ingrained in society they are.
I hope eventually that issues flagged up in this blog will come to the attention of the wider farming and rural communities and as such improvements will be made in practice and animal welfare.
I would welcome any comments on my first post especially with regard to content, relevance, layout and clarity.
On a final note I have wrestled with the spelling of ‘sceptic’ and ‘skeptic’ and decided to go with ‘skeptic’ as the word is pronounced with a hard ‘k’ and also ‘sceptic’ always makes me think of ‘septic tanks’.
’till next week when I will look at dowsing for well placement. Adieu.
PS I can be found @ruralwoo on twitter