Concerns over animal welfare issues on farms have seen Rural Women New Zealand and Fonterra rapped with the Bent Spoon, an annual recognition of gullibility and a lack of critical thinking awarded by the New Zealand Skeptics.
Rural Women New Zealand gave the Supreme prize in its Enterprising Rural Women Award to Homeopathic Farm Support, a company which follows the homeopathic practice of diluting substances until there is no active material left and then claiming that the water somehow “remembers” what was once in it. Homeopathic Farm Support provides a line of such products, claiming that homeopathy can be used to “prevent and treat symptoms of acute and chronic animal ailments” including mastitis, post calving haemorrhage. pinkeye, scours, first aid and even emotional problems in livestock.
“We had lots of members, including a number of vets, contact us very concerned that Rural Women New Zealand has applauded the use of magic water for treating serious cattle ailments, and that this potentially dangerous practice is apparently supported by a third of farmers supplying Fonterra,” says Skeptics Chair Vicki Hyde. “Rather than lauding the determination of the business owner to succeed in the face of little belief in alternative methods of healing, Rural Women New Zealand should be calling on their members to think long and hard about the welfare issues for their animals, and show that women can succeed in the hard graft of real farming. Fonterra should publicly distance itself from this or it will cop more criticism for tacitly supporting unacceptable New Zealand farm practices.”
There have been many studies of homeopathy, but the only ones which show any convincing results are those produced by homeopathic businesses and other vested interests. Hyde says that this is akin to reading tobacco company journals which say that smoking is fine for your health. Studies that have been conducted by independent parties with proper controls and peer review, whether on animals or humans, have not found any benefit from homeopathic treatments. Whatstheharm.net, a website tracking the physical and economic harm of a lack of critical thinking, has over 400 case studies of people who have died or been harmed by a belief in homeopathy.
“We know that animals respond to human contact, and that this can certainly play a role in the stories of response to alternative treatments, in much the same way that people respond to such. But we can´t afford to let treatment of serious health issues reply on wishful thinking or the placebo effect. That´s clearly unethical,” says Hyde.
A discussion paper on the ethics of homeopathics in veterinary use noted that “it would also seem clearly unethical to employ an unproven therapy such as homeopathy in cases where an acceptable and effective treatment already exists or where the patient is at risk for greater suffering if the unproven therapy fails.”
Others have raised the concern that the use of any substance, homeopathic or otherwise, without any actual data or evidence-based diagnostics, is a form of unapproved animal experimentation.
Fonterra has stated publicly that nearly 3,000 of its 10,500 farmer share-holders are Homeopathic Farm Support customers, and Fonterra has worked with the company on organic programmes. Fonterra did not respond to repeated inquiries from the NZ Skeptics regarding their level of support for alternative treatments and the animal welfare issues that result.
“Organic farmers don´t have to buy into the wishful thinking of homeopathy in order to be successful. And if they want to build a serious export market, they can´t afford to ignore the welfare issues involved in treating suffering animals with nothing but water,” says Hyde. “Let´s just hope that if there´s a serious foot and mouth outbreak we don´t have calls to treat it homeopathically – that could very well kill our country´s agricultural reputation for good.”
The NZ Skeptics point out that a central principle of homeopathy is that every being is unique and the treatment must be tailored to the individual on all levels, physical, emotional and mental. The organisation has previously called upon the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths to join them in criticising pharmacies for selling homeopathic products. NZHC did not respond to the request.
“The Homeopathic Council should be concerned at products being flogged off over the counter with no questions asked other than `do you want vitamins with that”? We´re just appalled that you can sell water for $10 a teaspoon with product information that has been shown to mislead 94% of users. And it´s distressing to think that this sort of exploitation is also being practiced in our farming sector.”
In addition to the Bent Spoon, the NZ Skeptics have praise for a number of attempts to encourage critical thinking over the past year.
Lynley Boniface gains a Bravo Award for her Dominion Post column “Why psychics should butt out of the Aisling Symes case”, castigating TVNZ for giving airtime to self-proclaimed psychic Deb Webber to promote her national tour and speculate on the then-unfolding tragedy of the missing Auckland toddler.
“We see distraught families exploited regularly by the psychic industry,” comments Hyde, “It just adds insult to injury to see such exploitainment supported by our state-funded television.”
3 News reporter Jane Luscombe gets a Bravo for her informative look at the belief that amber teething necklaces leach a substance to help babies with pain and depression.
“All too often we see television reporters take the easy option and swallow claims with nary a raised eyebrow. It was great to see a report where some research had been undertaken to show the claims were unfounded and a clear warning that the practice itself was a dangerous one.”
Kate Newton of the Dominion Post also gained a Bravo for her item on Victoria University´s embarrassment over the homeopathy course it was offering in its distance education programme. The NZ Skeptics have been concerned at the increasing willingness of universities to provide facilities for the promotion of touring psychics, neurolinguistic programmers and other purveyors of dubious services.
“Kate also took the trouble to point out that homeopathic products are watered down to the point where no molecules of active ingredients remain. The homeopathic industry is very careful to downplay that aspect in their products and services, and it´s an important point to get across to the general public. Most homeopathic users think they are getting something in the expensive sugar pills and water drops they are buying, but they aren´t.”
The awards will be psychically conferred at the NZ Skeptics Conference, being held in Auckland August 13-15. Information on the conference can be found on the NZ Skeptics website (http://skeptics.org.nz).