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By Robin Fearon
Vets should view homeopathic veterinary medicine as complementary rather than an alternative to conventional treatment, according to a statement issued by the RCVS last week.
At a meeting on 2 November a vote of 29 in favour, with one abstention, confirmed the RCVS Council’s position in a concise statement on homeopathy (see box).
RCVS president Stephen May said the statement made clear to the veterinary community the council’s position on the efficacy and ethics of complementary and alternative medicines.
‘What we have is a statement that reinforces the evidence-based and sound scientific foundations of our profession and our commitment to put animal health and welfare at the forefront of all we do,’ he said.
‘I am very pleased that the overwhelming majority of council members agreed with this statement and that the college has a firm and clear position on this important topic.’
The BVA has backed up the council’s position, restating its longstanding position to refuse endorsement of homeopathic remedies, or any products making therapeutic claims, without a proven evidence base.
‘As vets, animal welfare is our top priority, and complementary and alternative treatments that are not based on sound scientific principles or evidence could have detrimental consequences for animal health and welfare,’ said BVA senior vice president Gudrun Ravetz.
‘The RCVS’s statement firmly places homeopathy and other non-evidence-based treatments as complementary rather than alternative therapies, to be used alongside treatments with proven scientific bases, and we will be updating our position in consultation with BVA Policy Committee.’
Opponents of homeopathy have welcomed the RCVS Council’s intervention.
Danny Chambers, an equine vet and campaigner against homeopathy, called it ‘sensible’ but expressed frustration that it did not go further.
‘I recognise that the majority of veterinary homeopaths are acting with the best of intentions, but unfortunately being well-intentioned but deluded is no substitute for being right, especially when the consequences could lead to unnecessary suffering and even death,’ he said.
‘For those who say their livelihood is being threatened, I would respond by saying that they are still veterinary surgeons and can make a living by treating animals appropriately as the rest of us try to do.’
Homeopathic practice owner Mark Elliott said the RCVS Council had acted without talking to any of the stakeholders in homeopathy.
‘I have built my practice over the past 30 years and I may now have to shut down,’ he said.‘The RCVS Council’s statement was released without any consultation with homeopathic vets.’
I am pleased … that the college has a firm and clear position on this important topic
‘The RCVS has not changed its guidance on this issue, it has made a statement. That statement is an opinion at this time but it can ultimately inform guidance. The way forward is for the RCVS to talk to the people who are the stakeholders in this scenario and listen to the public.’
An online public petition set up on 5 November entitled ‘We need to stop the RCVS from banning homeopathic vets from treating animals’ has gained more than 2900 signatures from pet owners, activists and practitioners.
Veterinary associations for homeopathic vets, including the International Association for Veterinary Homeopathy (IAVH) and the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (BAHVS) said that powerful interests had determined the RCVS Council’s decision.
President of the IAVH Edward de Beukelaer said scientists are actively discouraged from engaging with homeopathy ‘as if the medical community is worried that homeopathy may well be very effective’.
A spokesman for the BAHVS said the council had been ‘seduced’ into a ‘precedent setting restriction on the clinical freedoms the profession has always enjoyed’.
The RCVS was now in a position where it could be accused of ‘putting profits before probity’ and ‘corporations before conscience’, said the spokesman.
rcvs statement in full
‘Homeopathy exists without a recognised body of evidence for its use. Furthermore, it is not based on sound scientific principles. In order to protect animal welfare, we regard such treatments as being complementary rather than alternative to treatments for which there is a recognised evidence base or which are based in sound scientific principles.
‘It is vital to protect the welfare of animals committed to the care of the veterinary profession and the public’s confidence in the profession that any treatments not underpinned by a recognised evidence base or sound scientific principles do not delay or replace those that do.’
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