Health freedom movement
||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (March 2011)|
The health freedom movement is a loose coalition of alternative medicine organizations, consumers, activists, practitioners, and producers of products who campaign for greater availability and decreased regulation of alternative remedies. The movement is critical of the pharmaceutical industry and medical regulators, and uses the term "health freedom" as a catch phrase to convey its message.
Although "health freedom" campaigners say they want a level playing field in health, skeptical voices note that they are actually engaging in special pleading and asking for lower standards of evidence and scrutiny, as they were criticized for doing in the lobbying run-up to the enactment of the United States' "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act". The skeptical website Quackwatch says of the health freedom movement: "Quacks use the concept of 'health freedom' to divert attention away from themselves and toward victims of disease with whom we are naturally sympathetic."
- 1 Structure, ideology and objectives
- 2 Political roots and support base
- 3 Legislation
- 4 Criticism of the pharmaceutical industry
- 5 Criticism of the Codex Alimentarius Commission
- 6 Organizations and campaigners
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Structure, ideology and objectives
The concept of health freedom is strongly tied to alternative medicine and inherent distrust of the pharmaceutical industry. The removal from consumers of access to products that they had formerly been able to obtain and which were perceived by them as beneficial is viewed by many in the movement as being promoted by multinational corporations.
A key objective in the movement is removal of any residual controls on advertising and sale of vitamins, minerals, herbals, botanicals, amino acids and other food supplements. The dietary supplement industry wants to see less stringent regulations than those applied to food.
The movement's supporters and organizations believe that there is a conspiracy by the pharmaceutical industry to undermine purported "nutritional routes" to better health. These campaigners also criticise the latest research indicating that vitamin C supplements do not protect against the common cold as having a number of fundamental flaws.
The belief that supplements and vitamins can demonstrably improve health or longevity is not backed by evidence-based medicine, nor is it widely accepted in the medical community, because there is felt to be insufficient evidence to support such beliefs. Large doses of some vitamins can lead to vitamin poisoning (hypervitaminosis), although deaths from vitamin poisoning are extremely rare in the US.
Political roots and support base
Health freedom activists come from a variety of political backgrounds. The libertarianism Ludwig von Mises Institute argues in favor of deregulation of the medical profession and health care sector. Some activists are politically left-wing, whilst the Republican congressman and 2008 U.S. presidential candidate Ron Paul, who supports health freedom, calls himself a free market libertarian. A leading supporter of the movement, Paul introduced the Health Freedom Protection Act in the U.S. Congress in 2005. Other examples of people with polar opposite political views whose healthcare ideology at times appears to bear some comparison to that of the health freedom movement include Prince Charles, who has defended alternative therapies in an address to the World Health Assembly, and Cherie Blair (the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair) who is believed to have influenced her husband's reported opposition to the EU Food Supplements Directive. The British right wing Conservative Party has supported the Save Our Supplements campaign as part of its campaign against the EU Food Supplements Directive, whilst the Green Party in Ireland has expressed concern that changes to this Directive will limit consumers' access to off-the-shelf vitamins and mineral supplements. The Swedish conservative Moderate Party is also opposed to the EU imposed vitamin restrictions.
Prominent celebrity supporters of the movement include the musician Sir Paul McCartney, who says that people "have a right to buy legitimate health food supplements" and that "this right is now clearly under threat," and the pop star/actress Billie Piper, who joined a march in London in 2003 to protest planned EU legislation to ban high dosage vitamin supplements.
The term Health freedom movement has been used in the United States since the 1990s. Around 2003 to 2005, a campaign organization founded by the British author Lynne McTaggart and called the Health Freedom Movement existed in the United Kingdom.
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) is "health-freedom" legislation. DSHEA defines supplements as foods, and puts the onus on the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prove that a supplement poses significant or unreasonable risk of harm rather than on the manufacturer to prove the supplement’s safety, reversing the burden of evidence required of medicines. The act was passed by Congress after extensive lobbying by the manufacturers of dietary supplements. Producers of these supplements are largely exempt from regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, which can take action against them only if they make medical claims about their products or if consumers of the products become seriously ill.
Confusion about the implications of DSHEA was found in an October 2002 nationwide Harris poll. Here, 59% of respondents believed that supplements had to be approved by a government agency before they could be marketed; 68% believed that supplements had to list potential side effects on their labels; and 55% believed that supplement labels could not make claims of safety without scientific evidence. All of these beliefs are incorrect as a result of provisions of the DSHEA.
President Bill Clinton, on signing DSHEA into law, stated that "After several years of intense efforts, manufacturers, experts in nutrition, and legislators, acting in a conscientious alliance with consumers at the grassroots level, have moved successfully to bring common sense to the treatment of dietary supplements under regulation and law." He also stated that the passage of DSHEA "speaks to the diligence with which an unofficial army of nutritionally conscious people worked democratically to change the laws in an area deeply important to them" and that "In an era of greater consciousness among people about the impact of what they eat on how they live, indeed, how long they live, it is appropriate that we have finally reformed the way Government treats consumers and these supplements in a way that encourages good health."
Another example of the passing of pro-health-freedom legislation occurred in March 2007, when Governor Timothy M. Kaine signed a bill into law in the U.S. State of Virginia allowing teenagers 14 or older and their parents the right to refuse medical treatments for ailments such as cancer, and to seek alternative treatments so long as they have considered all other medical options. Kaine described the bill as being "significant for health freedom in Virginia."
In addition, some U.S. states have proven willing to allow nonlicensed practitioners to diagnose and treat patients, and forms of nonlicensed practice have been approved in California, Rhode Island, Idaho, Louisiana and Oklahoma. As a result, between 2000 and 2006, 15 percent of the U.S. population gained some access to nonlicensed practitioners.
In Europe, health freedom movement writers and campaigners believe that European Union (EU) laws such as the Food Supplements Directive, the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive, and the Human Medicinal Products (Pharmaceuticals) Directive, will reduce their access to food supplements and herbal medicines. European health food producers, retailers and consumers have been vocal in protesting against this legislation, with the health freedom movement inviting supporters to "Stop Brussels from killing natural medicine". On the day that Members of the European Parliament voted for a clampdown on vitamin sales, the parliament's computer system crashed under the strain of thousands of speed-dial emails, arguing that the new directive would "ban 300 popular supplements" and "drive British health stores out of business". In Strasbourg, meanwhile, Euro-MPs were accosted by activists handing out a propaganda video accusing five European commissioners of corruptly colluding with big pharmaceutical firms in an attempt to destroy the alternative network of homeopathic and natural medicines, though it emerged that most homeopathic practice in the UK has been illegal for some years and proposed European regulatory changes do not materially affect this.
In 2004, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) and two British trade associations had a legal challenge to the Food Supplements Directive referred to the European Court of Justice by the High Court in London. The European Court of Justice's Advocate General subsequently said that the EU's plan to tighten rules on the sale of vitamins and food supplements should be scrapped, but was overruled by the European Court, which decided that the measures in question were necessary and appropriate for the purpose of protecting public health. ANH interpreted the ban as applying only to synthetically produced supplements - and not to vitamins and minerals normally found in or consumed as part of the diet. Nevertheless, the European judges did acknowledge the Advocate General's concerns, stating that there must be clear procedures to allow substances to be added to the permitted list based on scientific evidence. They also said that any refusal to add a product to the list must be open to challenge in the courts. Some media observers believe that, as a result of this legislation, a black market will emerge, and that controls over ingredients and quality will vanish.
Australia & New Zealand
In New Zealand, health freedom campaigners have been concerned that many supplements would be removed from the shelves under the Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill that was introduced to the NZ Parliament in 2006 by Food Safety Minister Annette King. If passed, the Bill would have created a joint agency with Australia to regulate therapeutic products. In July 2007, King announced that the Bill would be postponed until there was more support in the New Zealand parliament for the scheme. She subsequently passed responsibility for the issue to New Zealand Health Minister Pete Hodgson, who said that "the status quo of an unregulated market for medical devices and complementary medicines cannot remain". It is understood that officials are now planning to look at using ministerial powers to create domestic regulations to apply to such products sold in New Zealand.
More recently, in response to thousands of dollars worth of stock being confiscated by the regulatory body MedSafe, natural health practices in New Zealand have banded together under the Health Freedom banner to protest against what they say is a Medsafe "witch hunt", arguing that the crackdown is a response to the stalling of the Therapeutic Products and Medicines Bill. Subsequently, a petition was presented to New Zealand MPs calling for Medsafe to stop harassing natural health manufacturers and practitioners. The health-freedom campaigners who organised the petition say that 7000 signatures were gathered over a three-week period.
Following the Australian Federal Government's decision to pay a record A$50 million (NZ$62.3 million) compensation to Jim Selim, the founder of complementary medicine manufacturer, Pan Pharmaceuticals, as a result of the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration(TGA) recalling all of Pan's products in 2003, Health Freedom spokeswoman Nicola Grace said that a class action suit against the TGA involving some 100 businesses that closed because of the recall was likely to ensue and that "the ticket may just include Minister Annette King".
Criticism of the pharmaceutical industry
Health freedom-orientated writers and campaigners tend to see restrictive legislation on supplements as being designed to protect the interests of the pharmaceutical industry. If herbal medicines and supplements are removed from sale, they argue, patients will have no alternative but to use conventional pharmaceutical medicines. Matthias Rath believes that the pharmaceutical industry has a vested interest in the continuation and expansion of diseases, rather than their cure, in that without the current widespread existence of diseases the industry would cease to exist in its current form.
In addition to criticising the pharmaceutical industry, the health freedom movement is also critical of the actions of individual pharmaceutical companies. As reported in the British Medical Journal, for example, health freedom organisations have condemned Merck & Co.’s marketing methods, saying the company hopes to use profits from Gardasil to fund the litigation costs it has had to pay over rofecoxib (Vioxx). Health freedom-orientated campaigners in the UK, meanwhile, have publicly criticised Boots, Britain's largest chemist, for "watering down" its vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure that its products complied with the European Union's Food Supplements Directive.
Criticism of the Codex Alimentarius Commission
A key focus of the health-freedom movement in recent years has been the activities of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which it perceives to be acting in the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.
The Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Food Supplements were adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission as a voluntary standard at its meeting in Rome in July 2005. The scope of the guidelines includes requirements for the packaging and labelling of vitamin and mineral supplements. The text also specifies that "supplements should contain vitamins/provitamins and minerals whose nutritional value for human beings has been proven by scientific data and whose status as vitamins and minerals is recognised by FAO and WHO." In addition, it states that the "sources of vitamins and minerals may be either natural or synthetic" and that "their selection should be based on considerations such as safety and bioavailability." The National Health Federation, by virtue of its official observer status at Codex, was the only delegation present at the meeting to oppose the adoption. Drafted using the EU Food Supplements Directive as a blueprint, health-freedom orientated protagonists argue that the eventual effect of these Guidelines will be to remove large numbers of what they regard as the most effective forms of nutrients from the global market, set restrictive upper limits on the dosages of all permitted nutrients, and prevent the sale of all supplements for curative, preventative or therapeutic purposes without a doctor’s prescription.
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) have stated that the guidelines are "to stop consumers overdosing on vitamin and mineral food supplements." The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) has said that the guidelines call "for labelling that contains information on maximum consumption levels of vitamin and mineral food supplements." The WHO has also said that the Guidelines "ensure that consumers receive beneficial health effects from vitamins and minerals."
The health-freedom movement is concerned, among other things, about similarities between the EU's Food Supplements Directive and the Codex Alimentarius Guidelines for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements. A book, "Codex Alimentarius - Global Food Imperialism," has been published by the Foundation for Health Research in 2007, and includes numerous articles by health-freedom activists concerning their personal experiences and observations about Codex over a ten-year period.
Criticism of regional trade blocs
A number of health-freedom organizations and their political supporters believe that the increasing tendency for countries to form free trade areas and trade blocs threatens their freedom of choice in healthcare, on the grounds that they believe these further increase the pressure upon countries to harmonize their food and supplement laws to the voluntary reference standard set by Codex. Campaigners argue that such trade agreements are about business and money and are put before the welfare of countries. Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul has said that the Central American Free Trade Agreement "increases the possibility that Codex regulations will be imposed on the American public."
Organizations and campaigners
The core of the health-freedom movement consists of a loose coalition of organizations, consumers, activists, alternative medicine practitioners, producers of products, bloggers and newsfeeds.
- USA and the Americas
The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), co-founded in 1999 by Sally Fallon (Morell) and nutritionist Mary G. Enig (PhD), is a U.S. 501(c)(3) non-profit organization active in the United States raw milk debate.
The Life Extension Foundation (LEF) is a non-profit research-based organization headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Established in 1980 by co-founders Saul Kent and William Faloon, its primary purpose is to fund research and disseminate information on anti-aging and optimal health.
The National Health Federation (NHF) is an international non-profit organization founded in January 1955, which describes its mission as protecting individuals' rights to use dietary supplements and alternative therapies without government restriction. The NHF also opposes interventions such as water fluoridation and childhood vaccines. The Federation has official observer status at meetings of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the highest international body on food standards. Based in California, the Federation's board members include medical doctors, scientists, therapists and consumer advocates of natural health; and it is the only health-freedom organization with Codex credentials permitting it to participate actively at Codex Alimentarius meetings.
The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) is an advocacy group founded in 2002 by Robert Verkerk and based in the United Kingdom. The ANH was initially founded to raise funds to finance a legal challenge of the EU Food Supplement Directive. The ANH lobbies against regulation of dietary supplements and in favor of alternative medical approaches such as homeopathy, and also advocates a healthy diet, exercise, and other lifestyle approaches to health. The Alliance also criticizes scientific research showing that megadoses of vitamins lack any health benefit.
The Dr. Rath Health Foundation was founded by a German doctor, Matthias Rath. The foundation is financed by the profits from a supplement manufacturer owned by Dr Rath.
- Individual campaigners
The health freedom movement also includes a number of individual campaigners, newsfeeds, opinion makers and talk radio stations. Examples include Gary Null, Dr Joseph Mercola, Joyce Riley's talk radio show The Power Hour and Kevin Trudeau.
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