Pseudoscience

Walmart sued for consumer fraud after selling pseudoscientific ‘homeopathic remedies’

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) filed a consumer fraud suit against Walmart for not differentiating homeopathic remedies from science-based, FDA-approved over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.

The complaint alleged that Walmart sold and marketed their private label brand, “Equate,” and other homeopathic remedies on the same shelves as FDA-approved medicines. CFI found the same problem on Walmart’s website when they searched for specific illnesses. Search results had homeopathic remedies and FDA approved medicines intermingled. CFI claims that the lack of distinction implies that homeopathic remedies are equivalent alternatives to FDA-approved science-based medicines.

This suit is CFI’s second. Last year, they filed a similar lawsuit against CVS. Both cases utilized the District of Columbia’s Consumer Protections Procedures Act (CPPA). CPPA deals with the rights of consumers to receive truthful information. The Act does not require that a plaintiff demonstrate customer harm. Under CCPA, nonprofit and consumer protection organizations can sue on behalf of the public and receive $1,500 per violation as damages. While CCPA is limited to D.C., the inclusion of Walmart’s website could have far-reaching ramifications.

CFI’s suit refers to homeopathic remedies as “pseudoscience” and cites U.S., Australian, and U.K. government research to argue that there isn’t “a shred of credible scientific evidence that it (homeopathy) works, or indeed could possibly work.” In both cases, CFI uses Oscillococcinum as an example of a worthless treatment. Oscillococcinum is “duck offal,” which is the internal organs and entrails of a duck. An analysis found that the offal is diluted to a “scientifically-impossible concoction of one part offal to 10400 parts water, a number that exceeds the estimated number of atoms in the known universe (1082 ).” Yet, CFI noted that this homeopathic remedy is on the shelves and shows up as a front page result in a “flu remedy” search on Walmart’s website.

FTC oversees homeopathic remedies, stating that for the “vast majority of OTC homeopathic drugs, ‘the case for efficacy is based solely on traditional homeopathic theories and there are no valid studies using current scientific methods showing the product’s efficacy.’ As such, the marketing claims for these products are likely misleading, in violation of the FTC Act.” Yet the FTC and FDA don’t seem to be enforcing the laws or require testing.

For now, the lawsuits by organizations, like CFI, are the best option for calling attention to the problem of intermingling homeopathic remedies and science-based OTC medicines. We may find out soon if these lawsuits can make a difference because CFI and CVS are currently in settlement talks.

Featured image via Mike Mozart/Flickr

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