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College publishes complementary medicines statement

3 November 2017

NB Please scroll down to read our new FAQs - posted on 14 November 2017

RCVS Council yesterday (Thursday 2 November 2017) approved a new position statement on the veterinary use of complementary and alternative medicines, including homeopathy.

The statement is as follows:

“We have recently been asked questions about complementary and alternative medicines and treatments in general and homeopathy in particular.

“We would like to highlight our commitment to promoting the advancement of veterinary medicine upon sound scientific principles and to re-iterate the fundamental obligation upon our members as practitioners within a science-based profession which is to make animal welfare their first consideration.

“In fulfilling this obligation, we expect that treatments offered by veterinary surgeons are underpinned by a recognised evidence base or sound scientific principles. Veterinary surgeons should not make unproven claims about any treatments, including prophylactic treatments.

“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.”

The statement comes after long-standing discussions within the veterinary community about the efficacy and ethics of complementary and alternative medicines.

Our President Professor Stephen May said: “It is fair to say that debates on either side of this issue have been passionate and this too has been reflected in the debates that we have had amongst Council members as to how to best articulate the College’s position on 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.

“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.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Published on 14 November 2017

Since we published the above statement on 3 November 2017, there has been a considerable amount of discussion across various channels, and a number of questions raised. We have collated a number of the most frequently asked questions, and provided answers below. We may add to these in due course, if and when further questions arise.

Is the RCVS banning veterinary homeopathy and other complementary treatments and therapies?

No. We have not banned veterinary homeopathy and neither does our position statement of 3 November 2017 suggest that we have.

What we do state, is that we expect treatments like homeopathy, which are not underpinned by a recognised evidence base or sound scientific principles, to be offered alongside, or complementary to, those treatments that are.

What is the legal foundation of the position agreed by RCVS Council?

Under the RCVS Royal Charter (granted in 1844 and updated in 1967 and 2015), our main purpose is to set, uphold and advance veterinary standards in the interests of the health and welfare of animals and in the wider public interest.

The Charter gives us the power to undertake any activities that we think are necessary or appropriate to help us achieve that purpose.

What right does the RCVS have to make a judgement on the merits – or otherwise – of homeopathy or any other complementary therapy?

RCVS Council considered this matter as part of its functions under the RCVS Royal Charter, as noted above. The Council decided to approve the position statement based on scientific principles and in the interests of upholding animal welfare.

Does this statement remove the choice of animal owners to use homeopathic or other complementary treatments?

No. Animal owners are free to choose homeopathic or other complementary treatments for their animals, however, we believe this should only be on a complementary basis and in discussion with their veterinary surgeon.

What happens if an animal owner refuses to treat their animal with ‘conventional’ veterinary medicine?

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, animal owners and keepers are responsible for taking reasonable steps to ensure that their animals’ welfare needs are met. One of those basic welfare needs is protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

We consider that this welfare need is best served by the use of treatments underpinned by sound scientific principles, and would recommend that both vets and animal owners have this uppermost in their minds when considering treatment.

Homeopathy is provided for in both UK and EU legislation, so why is the RCVS making this statement?

It is correct that homeopathy is recognised in the Veterinary Medicines Regulations and by certain EU Directives. However, this does not alter the fact that, in our view, homeopathic and other complementary therapies that are not underpinned by sound scientific principles should be complementary to, and not used instead of, those that are.

Some conventional medicines have a low evidence-base – why aren’t you targeting them?

‘Conventional’ medicines, ie those that are authorised as licensed veterinary medicines, have gone through clinical trials before receiving marketing authorisation from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). The marketing authorisation covers quality, efficacy, safety characteristics and an assessment of risks vs benefits.

Whilst some homeopathic remedies may be registered with the VMD, they do not undergo the same detailed evaluation process.

How does this statement relate to EU COMMISSION REGULATION (EC) No 889/2008 of 5 September 2008 which concerns organic farming?

This Regulation sets out requirements for the production and labelling of organic products, not the treatment of animals. The Regulation does not seek to determine the appropriate treatment in the event of sickness or injury to an animal.

Who do Council Members represent when making decisions?

RCVS Council comprises 24 members elected by the veterinary profession, 14 members appointed by the UK’s seven veterinary schools and four members appointed by the Privy Council. All members are required to publish their Declarations of Interest publicly on the RCVS website, and to declare any new conflicts of interest at the beginning of all Committee and Council meetings.

All Council Members are required to act in accordance with the public service principles set out in the Nolan Committee’s First Report on Standards in Public Life, which include selflessness (acting solely in the public interest), integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

Council Members are not elected or appointed to represent any constituency or industry, and all have a responsibility equivalent to trustees for the governance of the College.

Did the RCVS try to remove the petition from the Care2 website?

No. We asked for the language used in the title and preamble of the Care2 petition to be amended, as we thought it was misleading. We have not banned homeopathic vets from treating animals [title], or decided not to allow animal owners to have the option to treat their animals with homeopathy from homeopathic vets [preamble].

We therefore asked Care2 to ask the petition author if they would amend this language to accurately reflect our position statement, so that it didn’t risk misleading people. We also asked what Care2’s position would be if the petition author refused to correct the misleading title and preamble.

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