On January 26, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and the Center for Inquiry (CFI) issued a public statement rebuking Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (“Wal-Mart”) for selling and marketing an ineffective homeopathic flu remedy, Boiron Oscillococcinum, through the company's website, www.walmart.com. (Boiron is the manufacturer; oscillococcinum is the homeopathic product.) Leading names in the scientific and medical community signed the statement, including Venki Ramakrishnan, Ph.D., the 2009 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry; Simon Singh, Ph.D., MBE, and Edzard Ernst, M.D., Ph.D., F.Med. Sci., FSB, FRCP, FRCP (Edin.), authors of Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine; and many others. On March 23, 2011, CSI and CFI announced the names of additional leading scientists and physicians who have endorsed the statement.
We are now inviting the public to sign the statement and help urge Wal-Mart to end its promotion of Boiron Oscillococcinum.There is no credible scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of Boiron Oscillococcinum beyond what is expected from the placebo effect. The product's allegedly active ingredient consists of mere liquefied duck liver and duck heart, substances early 20th century homeopaths thought contained a nonexistent bacterium they dubbed “oscillococci.” Moreover, Boiron Oscillococcinum’s homeopathic preparation requires repeatedly diluting the “active ingredient” in water until the odds that the solution contains even a single molecule of it are effectively zero.CSI and CFI’s statement reads, in part: “We urge Wal-Mart to cease marketing this ineffective product immediately. Although we recognize that doing so might not serve Wal-Mart’s financial interest, we hope Wal-Mart will act appropriately out of a sense of ethical obligation. The cooperation of good corporate citizens is indispensable if public consumers are to rely on the claims of health-remedy producers and the companies that market their products.”Wal-Mart's marketing of oscillococcinum is a profound disservice to the public. Influenza is a serious illness. It can lead to complications resulting in hospitalization or even death, especially among the elderly, the very young, and individuals with certain health conditions. It is imperative that consumers not be led to believe that effective preventive and therapeutic measures can be ignored in favor of something that amounts to “snake oil.” A product that is useless is a product that is harmful. Please help us to persuade Wal-Mart to cease marketing this ineffective product immediately. Add your name to the petition.
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Urge Wal-Mart to Stop Selling and Marketing Homeopathic Flu Remedy
We are deeply concerned about Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.'s ("Wal-Mart's") irresponsible marketing and promotion of Boiron Oscillococcinum, an ineffective homeopathic "flu medicine," through its website, www.walmart.com . Wal-Mart's website states that the product, manufactured by Boiron, is to be used "for flu-like symptoms." The website further states that the product's alleged active ingredient, Anas Barbariae Hepatis Et Cordis Extractum 200CK Hpus, is used "to Reduce The Duration and Severity of Flu Symptoms." The website also features an image of the product's package, which indicates that the product "Reduces [the] Duration and Severity of Flu Symptoms," including "Fever, Chills, Body Aches and Pains."
Wal-Mart's misleading promotion of this "homeopathic medicine" as a treatment for flu is not limited to the webpage on which the product is displayed. Consumers will reach this page only after visiting Wal-Mart's "Medicine Cabinet" page, which assures customers that the products Wal-Mart carries will "fight colds and the flu." From there, website visitors will navigate to the "Cough, Colds & Flu Wellness Shop" page, which promises to help the customer "Stay on top of cold and flu season by learning about products that can help you and your family stay well, relieve symptoms and recover fast." In its "Cough, Cold, and Flu Buying Guide," Wal-Mart asserts that its products will provide the customer "with everything you and your family need for battling a cold or the flu."In short, Wal-Mart's entire website is replete with assurances that the products Wal-Mart offers as flu remedies are, in fact, effective for preventing and treating the flu. People are buying Boiron Oscillococcinum based on these assurances.Wal-Mart's assurances regarding Boiron Oscillococcinum, however, are false and irresponsible. Boiron Oscillococcinum is ineffective against the flu and flu symptoms. Homeopathic oscillococcinum solutions were first produced in the early 20th century on the mistaken assumption that they contained "oscillococci," microscopic bacteria that proved to be imaginary. The allegedly active ingredient of Boiron's Oscillococcinum consists of mere liquefied duck liver and duck heart, substances that were thought to contain the nonexistent bacteria. Moreover, manufacturing a "200 CK" homeopathic preparation requires repeatedly diluting the "active ingredient" in water until the odds that the solution contains even a single molecule of it are effectively zero.There is no credible scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of Boiron Oscillococcinum's "200CK" homeopathic preparation beyond what is expected from the placebo effect. The premise upon which the effectiveness of this "homeopathic medicine" is founded--that highly diluted preparations of substances that cause symptoms in healthy individuals will reduce similar symptoms in patients--has no basis in reality and has been disproved repeatedly.This statement should not be interpreted as offering a legal opinion. By marketing Boiron Oscillococcinum through its website, however, Wal-Mart may be in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act ("FFDCA") and the regulations it implemented. The Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have issued warning letters to other marketers of Boiron Oscillococcinum stating that online marketing of the product for the treatment of flu symptoms violates the FFDCA.Regardless of whether Wal-Mart is violating the law, its marketing of this product is a profound disservice to the public. Influenza is a serious illness. It can lead to complications resulting in hospitalization or even death, especially among the elderly, the very young, and individuals with certain health conditions. It is imperative that consumers not be led to believe that effective preventive and therapeutic measures can be ignored in favor of something that amounts to "snake oil." A product that is useless is a product that is harmful.The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Center for Inquiry wrote to Wal-Mart in November 2010 regarding its inaccurate and misleading marketing of Boiron Oscillococcinum. To date Wal-Mart has neither issued a response to nor acknowledged receipt of CSI and CFI's letter. Because Wal-Mart has misled consumers about the product's effectiveness and ignored private pleadings to correct the situation, we are compelled to speak out publicly against Wal-Mart's irresponsibility.We urge Wal-Mart to cease marketing this ineffective product immediately. Although we recognize that doing so might not serve Wal-Mart's financial interest, we hope Wal-Mart will act appropriately out of a sense of ethical obligation. The cooperation of good corporate citizens is indispensable if public consumers are to rely on the claims of health-remedy producers and the companies that market their products.
Signed,*Center for Inquiry and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Representatives Ronald A. Lindsay, J.D., Ph.D.President and CEO, Center for Inquiry and Committee for Skeptical InquiryBarry KarrExecutive Director, Committee for Skeptical InquiryDerek C. Araujo, Esq.General Counsel, Center for InquirySignatories from the Scientific and Medical CommunityKimball C. Atwood IV, M.D.Assistant Clinical Professor, Tufts University School of MedicineStephen Barrett, M.D.Psychiatrist, Author, Consumer AdvocateWillem Betz, M.D.Professor Emeritus of Medicine, University of Brussels VUBChair, Medicine Branch, European Council of Skeptical OrganisationsSusan Blackmore, Ph.D.University of the West of EnglandSandra BlakesleeScience writer and authorMark Boslough, Ph.D.Physicist, Sandia National LaboratoriesShawn Carlson, Ph.D.Founder and Executive Director, LabRats Science Education ProgramMacArthur FellowFrederick Crews, Ph.D.Essayist, literary critic, author, and Professor Emeritus of English, University of California, BerkeleyEdzard Ernst, M.D., Ph.D., F.Med. Sci., FSB, FRCP, FRCP (Edin.)Laing Chair in Complementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and PlymouthTaner Edis, Ph.D.Associate Professor of PhysicsTruman State UniversityBryan Farha, Ed.D., LPC, NCCApplied Behavioral Studies & Counseling Graduate Programs, Oklahoma City UniversityKen Feder, Ph.D.Department of AnthropologyCentral Connecticut State UniversityBarbara Forrest, Ph.D.Professor of Philosophy, Southeastern Louisiana UniversityAuthor and pro-science activistLuis Alfonso GámezScientific journalistDavid H. Gorski, M.D., Ph.D., FACSManaging Editor, Science-Based Medicine blogLeader, Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Team, and Co-Leader, Breast Cancer Biology Program, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer InstituteHarriet Hall, M.D.Physician (ret.); WriterTerence Hines, Ph.D.Department of Psychology, Pace UniversityManfred Kroger, Ph.D.Professor of Food Science Emeritus, The Pennsylvania State UniversityWilliam M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H.Professor, Department of Health ScienceCalifornia State University, Los AngelesEugenie V. MielczarekEmeritus Professor of Physics, George Mason UniversityDavid Morrison, Ph.D.Director, Carl Sagan Center for Study of Life in the UniverseFormer director, NASA Lunar Science InstituteSenior scientist, NASA Astrobiology InstituteJan Willem Nienhuys, Ph.D.Mathematician, Waalre, The NetherlandsSteven Novella, M.D.Assistant Professor of Neurology, Yale University School of MedicineJay Pasachoff, Ph.DField Memorial Professor of AstronomyWilliams CollegeMassimo Pigliucci, Ph.D.Graduate Center & Lehman College, City University of New YorkPhilip Plait, Ph.D.Astronomer, authorScience blogger, Bad AstronomyGary P. Posner, M.D.Former contributing editor, Scientific Review of Alternative MedicineAnthony R. Pratkanis, Ph.D.Professor of Psychology, University of California, Santa CruzVenki Ramakrishnan, Ph.D.Nobel Laureate (Chemistry, 2009)Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine (2007)James RandiFounder and Chair, James Randi Educational FoundationWallace Sampson, M.D.Clinical Professor, Emeritus of Medicine, Stanford UniversityFormer Editor-in-Chief, Scientific Review of Alternative MedicineAmardeo SarmaSenior Manager, NEC Laboratories Europe, HeidelbergBrahm Segal, M.D.Roswell Park Cancer InstituteRobert SheafferScience writer Columnist, Skeptical Inquirer magazineEugenie C. Scott, Ph.D.Executive Director, National Center for Science EducationSimon Singh, Ph.D., MBEAuthor, Critic, Television Director and Producer Victor Stenger, Ph.D.Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, University of Colorado Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy, University of HawaiiKaren Stollznow, Ph.D.Linguist, writer Managing Editor, Scientific Review of Mental Health PracticeCarol Tavris, Ph.D.Psychologist and authorMahlon W. Wagner, Ph.D.Professor Emeritus of Psychology, State University of New York at OswegoDavid Willey, Ph.D.Department of Physics, University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown* Titles for purpose of identification only.
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