Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Another attempt to make the Soil Association see sense.

So I received a wholly unsatisfactory response from the Soil Association to my enquiry about their recommendation of the use of homeopathy to treat farm animals. It's worth another go isn't it?
Hi Georgia,
Thank you very much for your response. Unfortunately it largely fails to address the points of concern in my email. While I applaud your commitment to animal welfare and all the measures you require regarding conditions the animals are kept and transported in and the prevention of habitual, unnecessary use of growth-hormones and antibiotics, homeopathy cannot be seen to be a valid part of such a practice. You speak of using alternative medicines "where these can be shown to be effective", but the standards of evidence you use to determine this must be set very low indeed in order for homeopathy to be included in any treatment regime. The opinion of any number of organic farmers or even veterinarians, based on their personal experience is not the same as data from genuine trials, it is just a collection of anecdotes, which proves nothing. The only way to genuinely prove the effectiveness of an intervention is through a properly controlled trial including subject and experimenter blinding, and a control group, the allocation to which is randomised. Such tests repeatedly demonstrate that Homeopathy is not effective for anything. If you (or Yeo Valley and their vets) have references to papers describing such studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of homeopathy for, using two examples from Yeo Valley blog, the control of flies or reducing stress in livestock, I would be very interested to read them.
You say that the "philosophy" of homeopathy would encourage empathy or observance in stockmen; I have read fairly widely on this practice and have not come across anything that would indicate this to be the case. Perhaps you could direct me to some reference?
The bottom line is that, as has been demonstrated by the available scientific literature, homeopathy is not an effective intervention for anything it has so far been tested for, and that enough work has been done to indicate that further testing would be a waste of time and money. If an intervention is required then an effective one should be given or this is neglect. If no intervention is required then one should not be given otherwise the price - a significant barrier to adoption by many consumers - of organic produce is needlessly driven up. The worst possible situation is where an intervention is required and an ineffective one is given, thus both neglecting the animal and driving up the price of produce. Vets who practice or encourage homeopathy may be well-meaning but have been fooled by the unscientific  nonsense that surrounds the practice of so-called "complementary" and "alternative" medicines. 
I feel that adherence to the recommendation of this practice tarnishes the reputation of your organisation and would again recommend that you strongly reconsider it and raise the bar of evidence for medical interventions you recommend significantly. 
Please do not think I am against your organisation in principle, I just think that adherence to complementary medicines, and particularly obvious bunk like homeopathy, does you a disservice that hampers the adoption of organic produce by consumers; it will cause some who support your cause to abandon it as it both gives a poor impression of your ability to correctly judge scientific evidence, and constitutes unintentional neglect of the animals.


The Curious Pixies said...

As a supporter of the Soil Association, I must say that I'm exceedingly disappointed to learn of their support for homeopathic practices with livestock. [Indeed I recently participated in the 10:23 campaign to raise awareness of the utterly bogus nature of homeopathy.] Your letter states many excellent points and I do hope it prompts some action to review their policies. :-)

The Curious Pixies said...

Should have added: thanks to the Brum Skeptics blog for posting the link to this article :-)