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Anus Maximus Winner 2010Comment and Opinion

Homeopathy Plus!
and
Homeopathy for Autism [This site disappeared in early 2014]

These sites and their owner, Fran Sheffield, took out the prestigious Anus Maximus Award for 2010 in the 2010 Millenium Awards. The award citation read:

There was again fierce competition for the top award, with very strong showings by Mike Adams and Gary Null, but by unanimous decision of the judges the 2010 Anus Maximus award went to Fran Sheffield, proprietor of the Homeopathy Plus! and Homeopathy for Autism web sites. Just suggesting that the ludicrous homeopathy could have any effect on autism would almost be enough to win the award in any year, but when this is added to absurd claims such as that homeopathy can be of benefit to people with breast cancer or that it is reasonable to charge fifteen cents each for sweets that retail for one hundredth of that cost or that homeopathy can be a substitute for vaccination then the decision became much easier.

What got Homeopathy Plus! across the line in first place wasn't the ridiculous health claims or the financial fraud, however, but the colossal arrogance shown when the Therapeutic Goods Administration requested that certain information be displayed on the Homeopathy Plus! web site. Ms Sheffield simply refused to comply, on the basis that by saying such patently false things as that homeopathy could replace vaccination or treat breast cancer she was not doing anything wrong.

A worthy winner.

Dear Ms Sheffield,

Congratulations. You and Homeopathy Plus! have won the Anus Maximus Award for 2010, the highest award presented annually by The Millenium Project. You are in excellent company, as previous winners include Dr Joe Mercola, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights and the Australian Vaccination Network. The judges were particularly impressed by your refusal to comply with a request from the TGA to correct "inaccuracies" on your web site. The award citation read:

[see above]

Please feel free to publicise your award and display the award logo on your web site. If you wish to collect the physical prize (a tube of haemorrhoid cream and a wire brush applicator) you can do so at your own expense, but please give me sufficient notice so that I can organise the location for the public application of the cream and the accompanying media coverage.

You can see the other award winners at http://www.ratbags.com/rsoles/history/2010/2010awards.htm


Encouragement Award 2003Fran Sheffield and Homeopathy Plus! backed up to win an Encouragement Award in the 2014 Millenium Awards. The award citation read:

This site won the prestigious Anus Maximus award in 2010. Nobody can win that one twice but sometimes people still need encouragement afterwards. Following a comprehensive trampling in the Federal Court by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Fran Sheffield and Homeopathy Plus! probably need some encouragement. They are facing the possibility of very large fines and also having to pay the ACCC's costs for the court action. Although Fran is expressing much optimism about how the judgment really doesn't affect her activities at all, she's probably going to have to sell an awful lot of small bottles of water for a few dollars and tiny spheres of sugar at 15 cents each to pay the legal bills. Unfortunately, there is probably no shortage of people prepared be deceived by the almost infinite nonsense of homeopathy.

As an aside, using Fran's pricing for her little sugar pills the average cupcake would have about $15 worth of sprinkles on top of it. Isn't it amazing that bakers can sell them for much, much less than that?


The Millenium AwardsAlthough the award went to someone else, Fran Sheffield and Homeopathy Plus! were responsible for the Quote of the Year in the 2015 Millenium Awards.

Usually the Quote of the Year award is given to some quack or charlatan who has made some egregious remark that is offensive to people who can think, but this year I'm making an exception and granting the award to a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia for saying something that I liked hearing. One of my great pleasures during the year was to sit in a Federal Court courtroom in Sydney to hear the penalties being placed on Fran Sheffield and the company Homeopathy Plus! for lying about how homeopathy can be a substitute for vaccination. Unfortunately the judgement can't be generalised to all of the fraudulent activity of homeopaths (which is everything that they do), but it's a start. Maybe they will be more careful in the future when making their absurd claims. You can read the complete judgement here.

I consider that it is appropriate to grant injunctive relief in the terms sought by the ACCC, to impose pecuniary penalties on Homeopathy Plus cumulatively totalling $115,000 payable to the Commonwealth in 30 days, and to impose pecuniary penalties on Mrs Sheffield totalling $23,000 payable to the Commonwealth in 90 days. I also consider that the respondents should be jointly and severally liable for the ACCC's costs.


A homeopath speaks, and drivel comes out (12/12/2009)
I make sacrifices for you. This week I sat though a web presentation about the use of homeopathy to treat autism. Sorry, it doesn't treat autism, it treats the autistic child. Except when it's treating autism. The presentation was a webinar organised by the Australian Vaccination Network and featured a homeopath named Fran Sheffield. All the usual buttons were pressed - homeopathy works (it really, really does!), anecdotes and testimonials are evidence, chelation can be used to get the heavy metals out so that the homeopathy can get in there and do its curing, autism is related to vaccination, ... A welding mask to protect against burning stupidI think that web sites promoting sessions like this should be required by law to display a sign like that at the right so that viewers can be warned that they might suffer damage from the intensely hot sparks of burning stupid.

The AVN has promised to make the entire webinar, with sound and all slides, available on their web site for free download, but I can't see if it is available yet. Some previous webinars are supposed to be available but they don't have links either. The AVN's web site is in a state of reconstruction at the moment and could politely be described as a dog's breakfast, with broken links, unreachable pages, conflicting styles and general messitude. As a professional websmith I could offer to help them to fix it up. Only joking, no I couldn't.

I will have the full awfulness of the webinar up here as soon as someone at the AVN gets around to providing a link. In the meantime, here is a sequence of screen shots of the slide show. Even without the sound the idiocy shines through. Don't forget your welding mask.


More homeopathic nonsense (6/2/2010)
In December I mentioned that I had forced myself to sit through a presentation by a homeopath who was opposed to vaccinations. Could that be because she wants parents to buy stuff from her rather than go to a real doctor? You can go here to see a brochure promoting homeopathic immunisation, as if there really is such a thing. It's one thing to sell useless water and sugar pill "cures" to the worried well, but when you start pretending that your snake oil can prevent children catching disabling and deadly diseases you have crossed the line from just a scam to become a risk to public health. Like cholera, which is also caused by the consumption of fecal matter.


More homeopathy (10/4/2010)
As WHAWthe coming week is World Homeopathy Awareness Week I could hardly let it pass without making people aware of how ridiculous homeopathy is, but before I do that I would like to show how despicable some homeopaths can be and how they act with total disregard for regulators and public health. We already know how they disregard the laws of science and the legal concept of fraud.

A homeopath appeared on the ABC television show Lateline during the week. She was featured because the regulatory authority, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, had ordered her to take some action over claims she had been making. She simply refused, on the basis that as she didn't think she had done anything wrong there was no need for her to do anything. This is someone who claims that homeopathy can cure breast cancer. This is someone who claims that there is scientific proof that homeopathy is just as good at preventing disease as vaccination but much safer. I first came across Fran Sheffield when she was shilling her anti-vaccination lies on behalf of the Australian Vaccination Network, and this latest episode just reinforces my opinion of her. Watch the video below and then answer this question: If there are people in prison for non-payment of traffic fines, how is it that this woman is wandering the streets free?

I sent this message to the television program:

Referring to the item about homeopathy on April 8, I am puzzled by the fact that someone so obviously out of touch with reality as Fran Sheffield is given any credence at all. I realise that using her is a subtle journalistic ploy to illustrate the idiocy and venality of homeopaths and a nice way to point out the quackery without risking a lawsuit for defamation, but members of the public might still see her as possessing some integrity.

Having said that, thank you for at least running a story suggesting that there should be better regulatory control of this nonsense. Unfortunately, the TGA's approach seems to be to add credibility to quackery by issuing AUST L registration codes for things that do nothing and then running away when egregious abuses of the system are exposed.

And I still can't understand why Fran Sheffield isn't in prison. Must it wait until the first woman dies from breast cancer after following her ludicrous advice?


Fraud, or just outright theft? (8/5/2010)
Here is one of the products offered for sale on the web site Homeopathy Plus!, run by noted Australian quack Fran Sheffield.

You will notice that the kit contains 84 grams of sucrose pills, and they must be very small pills because there are about 1,470 of them. They are in fact very small pills, being "hundreds and thousands" or "nonpareils" like the ones you see on your kids' birthday cakes. You will also notice that they are all 30C remedies, which means that (if anything was done beside packaging the sweets, which is highly unlikely) water with no active ingredients has been dripped on the tiny sugar balls and the sweets have then been allowed to dry out. Apparently the memory of water can be transferred to the memory of sugar.

But what do these potent pillules do?

You might think that paying 9 cents each for cake decoration sweets is a bit expensive, but remember that you get all those little bottles, the plastic carry case and a 114 (or maybe 72) page instruction sheet. Also consider that if you buy the pills as individual remedies you might get more per bottle (100 instead of 35) but the cost per pill is 15 cents.

Based on the figures given for the Home Kit there are about 17,500 pillules per kilogram, but it would be unfair to compare the selling price of these pills ($2,625 per kilogram) with the price of sugar at the local supermarket (90 cents/kilogram at Coles today) because after all these are manufactured pillules.

I decided to do a better comparison, so I have ordered some white hundreds and thousands. The place I got them from is an organic supplier (which increases the price) and I paid retail price (unlike your average homeopath who can get them wholesale). A 350 gram packet cost $8.95, or $25.60 per kilogram.

Let's look at those figures again.

Homeopathy is more than just medical fraud, it is financial fraud as well. It is theft, and the people selling it know exactly what they are doing. How they must laugh as they put those teaspoonsful of sweets into little bottles and post them out at a markup of about 10,000% over raw material costs. And these crooks have the gall to whine about the profits of pharmaceutical companies.


Can it get more vile than this? (12/3/2011)
Anybody in the world with a television must have been appalled at the scenes from Japan following the earthquake and tsunami. What is also appalling is the reaction from people who exploit tragedies like this. We have come to expect lunatics like Fred Phelps at the Westboro Baptist Church to come out with insane rants. In this case there have been the mildly mad who have suggested that the earthquake might in some way be related to the fact that the moon will be at its closest point to the Earth next week. I'm firmly in the "climate change is happening" camp, but I cringe at statements attempting to link earthquakes to global warming. People calling this an "act of God" and calling for prayer (the fastest-trending item on Twitter following the earthquake was #prayforjapan) miss the point that if God did this he is very evil and praying to the source of the trouble for assistance and relief seems incoherent. The idiots who have been besieging Facebook with claims that the tsunami is payback for Pearl Harbor are mad but probably harmless. The anti-nuclear contingent are out in force with scaremongering about possible damage to Japan's nuclear power reactors. (At the time of writing one of the stations seems to be in serious trouble, but the neither the nature not the extent of the problem is yet known.) I liked the comment that Japan was foolish to build nuclear reactors in seismically-active areas, although the commenter failed to go on to say where else there is in Japan.

The prize for blatant self-promotion and cynicism, however, goes to Australian homeopath Fran Sheffield, for this email sent to her subscribers.

Here's a fact. There are no "protective steps that can be taken with homeopathy". To say otherwise is not to be mistaken, not to be deluded, it is to lie. And as for treating radiation exposure with 30C x-rays, the only kind of person who would suggest that is either insane or admitting to being a complete fraud. (If you want an example of the insane sort, see how homeopathic Saturn can help with overcoming disasters. I am surprised that Ms Sheffield didn't suggest that for Japanese residents who aren't close to reactors.)

Homeopathy is rubbish, but while it is being used to treat only the walking suggestible it is relatively harmless. When homeopaths start talking about treating serious things like radiation exposure it is time to get out the pitchforks and flaming torches and tell these charlatans to shut up. It has gone beyond a joke and is now deliberately endangering people's lives.


Brave homeopath (19/3/2011)
I've had a bit to say in the past about homeopath Fran Sheffield and her business for extracting money from the gullible, Homeopathy Plus!. She ticks all the boxes - anti-vaccination, homeopath, overcharging for nothing worthwhile, ignoring regulatory authorities, ludicrous claims, ... Apparently she is now so ashamed of what she says and does that she has blocked me from following her on Twitter. (I think I was the first person to be blocked from her Facebook page, and all I did was post a link to the page about her here.)

I have sent the following Kind and Gentle email to Ms Sheffield:

Dear Ms Sheffield,

I notice that I have been blocked from following you on Twitter, and I also appear to be banned from posting anything to your Facebook page. I can understand why someone doing what you do would be a little sensitive about criticism, but surely if you are right and homeopathy can do all the things you say it can do then any criticism from me would make no difference.

You are free to read my web site at any time you like and if you send me comments I will publish them. You are free to join any public mailing list that I manage and post whatever you like to the list and you will not be moderated in any way (unless your messages expose me or anyone else to legal action). You have my permission to follow me on Twitter. You can be a fan or member of any Facebook page or group (or any other online forum) of which I am an administrator and any comments you post there will be left untouched (again unless they expose me or anyone else to legal action).

I have nothing to hide and I am not ashamed of what I say or do. It appears that you can say neither. Prove me wrong.


That stupid woman again (26/3/2011)
It seems that a weeks can't go by without more idiocy from Fran Sheffield, the homeopath who won the 2010 Anus Maximus Award. Her latest is some advice she gave to someone asking for help with inflamed tonsils. Here it is as presented in her email answers system.

As I don't suffer from lack of confidence and under-developed genitals this probably won't be prescribed for me if I go to a homeopath because I have a sore throat. That's probably just as well, because I have read some MSDS sheets for barium carbonate and I don't think I want to ingest any. Of course, at a 6C concentration, or 1:1,000,000,000,000, I probably wouldn't be getting any anyway but I would be paying for it. An interesting aside is that alternuts are always telling us that aspartame is rat poison, but guess what one of the uses of "Bar-c" is? It's also used in the glazing of bricks, but it's not recommended for glazing food utensils because a homeopathic dose might leach out into food and harm someone.

Here's a longer answer to the question, from the Homeopathy Plus! web site. Obviously the person asking the question above didn't deserve all the "facts":

Q. Kissing Tonsils and Small Concerns – What Can Bar-c Do?

Baryta carbonica (Bar-c.) is one of the remedies that can cure tonsil infections and catarrh, but only if other health problems and your overall disposition matches that of a Bar-c ‘state’.

Chldren or adults who need Bar-c. usually have a history of chronically inflamed, swollen tonsils. The tonsils can be large enough to almost block the throat, earning them the nickname of ‘kissing tonsils’.

These people will also suffer from mental/emotional or physical immaturity with symptoms such as:

  • shyness and lack of self-confidence
  • anxiety
  • childishness
  • delayed mental development
  • nail-biting
  • short height and slim build
  • stunted development of atrophy (shrinking) of body parts such as sexual organs

So, if these symptoms describe you, fantastic news!

Bar-c. will help to reduce your anxiety, increase confidence, and improve your physical or emotional immaturity. It will also take care of your infected tonsils and catarrh at the same time.

In children with the above symptoms, it will help normalise growth and development.

BUT, if none of the above sounds like you, using Bar-c. for your infected tonsils will either:

  1. Do nothing at all, because the remedy has no relationship to your symptoms,
  2. Improve things for a short period because it partially matches your symptoms but won’t ever be able to cure them, or
  3. Produce a short term "aggravation" (a worsening of your symptoms) through it being a close but still imperfect remedy for your needs.

The 6C potency mentioned by other websites is considered to be a low and gentle potency suitable for regular dosing for most people.

BUT, if your tonsils are chronically infected you are advised not to self-treat as changes in potencies, remedies, and frequency of doses may be needed for best results. A qualified homoeopath will be able to help you in this area.

I wouldn't care if this ridiculous nonsense was confined to consenting adults in private and prohibited from being taken anywhere near anybody who might be sick, but this stuff is given credibility by being taught in universities, sold in pharmacies and treated with respect as if it has something to offer the world. Not only is homeopathy scientifically ridiculous but it is logically incoherent. The rubbish above simply doesn't make any sense to anybody who can think clearly. As homeopaths are not stupid people one must assume that they can recognise the vapidity of what is said and therefore only continue to practice because they value money over common sense. And over the health concerns of the people they deceive by selling this stuff.

Here are some facts:

I am sick of seeing homeopaths treated with any respect at all. They have nothing to offer the world and should be exposed and ridiculed at every opportunity.


Look who's in trouble again (30/6/2012)
I don't know how I missed this back in May, but our old friend Fran Sheffield from Homeopathy Plus! attracted the attention of the authorities again. The real pity is that nobody can shut this quack down completely. You can read the media release from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission here.

ACCC tackles Homeopathy Plus! Whooping Cough claims

Homeopathy Plus! Pty Ltd has removed representations from its website that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission considered to be misleading and deceptive and that could lead to serious health risks for consumers.

The representations were made on the ‘Whooping Cough – Homeopathic Prevention and Treatment’ page which has since been removed from the Homeopathy Plus! website.

"The combination of claims that the vaccine was ineffective and that the homeopathic remedies listed on the page were an alternative prevention and treatment regime elevated this matter to one of extreme concern," ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

The ACCC examined content on the Homeopathy Plus! website following a complaint from the medical profession. The ACCC considered that the Homeopathy Plus! claims that the current whooping cough vaccine is dangerous and ineffective, while the homeopathic remedy is a proven and safe alternative, were likely to be misleading or deceptive.

Reliance on these claims may influence consumers to avoid the whooping cough vaccine and rely solely on the homeopathic approach for treatment and prevention of whooping cough, which is strongly discouraged by medical professionals. Whooping cough is a serious respiratory infection which can cause a long coughing illness and is life threatening for babies.

The ACCC result was considerably assisted by the engagement of the Therapeutic Goods Administration and NSW Fair Trading with Homeopathy Plus! Pty Ltd in resolving this matter.

The ACCC will continue to monitor the Homeopathy Plus! Pty Ltd site for potential breaches of the Australian Consumer Law.

Release # NR 086/12
Issued: 3rd May 2012


Congratulations (1/12/2012)
I thought it would be nice to send Fran Sheffield a Kind and Gentle email informing her of the great honour that has been bestowed on her.

Dear Fran,

I don't know if you've heard yet, but you have been awarded the 2012 Bent Spoon Award from Australian Skeptics. The announcement was made at a gala dinner held as part of the Skeptics' National Convention in Melbourne.

The Bent Spoon was inspired by James Randi's debunking of people who perform stage magic while pretending to have real magic powers, and it seems so appropriate that it should go to someone who makes a living doing magic tricks while pretending that there is some real, tangible power there. The description of the award says that it is presented to "the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudoscientific piffle" and it difficult to imagine anything more preposterous or pseudoscientific than homeopathy.

There was strong competition, but you came out on top. Or maybe on the bottom.

Congratulations.


Fran's day in court (20/12/2014)
One of the things I had hoped to report on this week was the outcome of a court case between the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Homeopathy Plus!, the quack outfit run by homeopath Fran Sheffield, but all the courts in Sydney were closed for 2 days during the week because someone was holding hostages in a cafe in Martin Place so the judgment has been delayed until Monday, December 22nd. I intend to attend court to hear the judgment handed down so there might be a celebratory but short update to the site during the coming week. Watch this space.


Homeopathy Plus! bucketed in court (24/12/2014)
On Monday, December 22nd, Justice Perry of the Federal Court of Australia handed down her decision in the matter of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission vs Homeopathy Plus! and Fran Sheffield. I was there to hear and cheer at the result, and I hope to be there on February 4th when the penalties are announced. As the Court has the power to apply penalties of more than a million dollars to corporations I imagine Fran Sheffield will be very busy selling hundreds and thousands sweets for 15 cents each over the next month to pay the fine and her legal bills. And the ACCC's costs too, of course. Here is the shortened form of the judgment.

THE COURT DECLARES THAT:

1)      The First Respondent and the Second Respondent have in trade and commerce:

  1. engaged in conduct that was misleading and deceptive or was likely to mislead and deceive, in contravention of section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law ("ACL"); and
  2.  in connection with the supply or possible supply of homeopathic treatments or products ("Homeopathic Treatments"), and in connection with the promotion of the supply of Homeopathic Treatments, made false or misleading representations that the vaccine publicly available in Australia for whooping cough ("Vaccine") is of a particular standard or quality in contravention of sections 29(1)(a) and (b) of the ACL, by publishing, or causing to be published, on the website www.homeopathyplus.com.au ("Website"):
  3.  from 1 January 2011 until around 26 April 2012, an article entitled "Whooping Cough – Homeopathic Prevention and Treatment" (the "First Whooping Cough Article") in which a representation was made to the effect that the Vaccine is short-lived, unreliable and no longer effective in protecting against whooping cough;
  4.  from 11 January 2013 until around March 2013, an article entitled "Whooping Cough – Homeopathic Prevention and Treatment" (the "Second Whooping Cough Article") in which a representation was made to the effect that the Vaccine may not be the best solution for, is of limited effect, and is unreliable at best, in protecting against whooping cough; and
  5.  from 3 February 2012 until around March 2013 an article entitled "Government Data Shows Whooping Cough Vaccine a Failure"  (the "Government Article") in which a representation was made to the effect that the Vaccine is largely ineffective in protecting against whooping cough; when, in fact, the Vaccine is effective in protecting a significant majority of people who are exposed to the whooping cough infection from contracting whooping cough.

2)      The First Respondent and the Second Respondent have in trade or commerce:

  1.  engaged in conduct that was misleading and deceptive or was likely to mislead and deceive, in contravention of section 18 of the ACL;
  2.  in connection with the supply or possible supply of Homeopathic Treatments, and in connection with the promotion of the supply of Homeopathic Treatments, made false or misleading representations that the Homeopathic Treatments are of a particular standard or quality in contravention of section 29(1)(a) and (b) of the ACL; and
  3.  in connection with the supply or possible supply of Homeopathic Treatments, and in connection with the promotion of the supply of Homeopathic Treatments, made false or misleading representations that Homeopathic Treatments have a use or benefit in contravention of section 29(1)(g) of the ACL, by publishing, or causing to be published, on the Website:
  4.  the First Whooping Cough Article;
  5.  the Second Whooping Cough Article; and
  6.  the Government Article in conjunction with the Second Whooping Cough Article, in which representations were made to the effect that there was a reasonable basis, in the sense of an adequate foundation, in medical science to enable it or them (as the case may be) to state that Homeopathic Treatments are a safe and effective alternative to the Vaccine for the prevention of whooping cough when, in fact:
  7.  there is no reasonable basis, in the sense of an adequate foundation, in medical science to enable the First Respondent and the Second Respondent to state that Homeopathic Treatments are safe and effective as an alternative to the Vaccine for the Prevention of Whooping Cough; and
  8.  the Vaccine is the only treatment currently approved for use and accepted by medical practitioners in Australia for the prevention of whooping cough.

THE COURT ORDERS THAT:

3)      The matter is listed for directions at 9.30 am on Wednesday 4 February 2015 in order to set a timetable for any further evidence on the question of penalties and submissions including on the injunctive and other final orders sought by the Applicant.

The full judgment is more than 100 pages long, so I'll just say that you can read it here.

Here is the ACCC's media release:

Court finds Homeopathy Plus! vaccine claims misleading

23 December 2014

The Federal Court has found that Homeopathy Plus! Pty Ltd (Homeopathy Plus!) and its director, Ms Frances Sheffield, engaged in misleading conduct and made false or misleading representations regarding the effectiveness of the whooping cough vaccine and homeopathic remedies as an alternative in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.

The Homeopathy Plus! website contained statements to the effect that the whooping cough vaccine is "unreliable at best" and "largely ineffective" in preventing whooping cough, and that homeopathic remedies are a proven safe and effective alternative for the prevention of whooping cough.

The Court found that Homeopathy Plus! and Ms Sheffield engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false or misleading representations by publishing statements on the Homeopathy Plus! website to the effect that:

  • the whooping cough vaccine is short lived, unreliable and no longer effective;
  • the vaccine may not be the best solution for, of limited effect, and is unreliable at best in protecting against whooping cough; and
  • the vaccine is largely ineffective in protecting against whooping cough,

when in fact the whooping cough vaccine is effective in protecting a significant majority of people from
contracting whooping cough.

The Court also found that Homeopathy Plus! and Ms Sheffield engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false and misleading representations to the effect that there was an adequate foundation in medical science for the statement that homeopathic treatments are a safe and effective alternative to the whooping cough vaccine, when in fact no such foundation exists and the vaccine is the only treatment currently approved for use and accepted by medical practitioners for the prevention of whooping cough.

"Representations that may mislead consumers about the effectiveness of medical products or treatments are of significant concern to the ACCC," ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.

"In this case, there was a real risk that consumers might be influenced by the representations not to use the whooping cough vaccine and instead to rely solely on homeopathic products for the prevention of whooping cough. This is against the advice of medical professionals and the Commonwealth Department of Health."

The matter returns to court on 4 February 2015 to set a timetable for further evidence on penalties and other remedies. The ACCC is seeking injunctions and pecuniary penalties, in addition to the declarations already made by the Court.

Background

Whooping cough is a highly infectious respiratory disease which is most serious in young children. The Australian Government Department of Health recommends children receive the whooping cough vaccine as part of routine childhood immunisation.

In April 2012, Homeopathy Plus! removed representations from its website at the request of the ACCC, after the ACCC had expressed concerns they were misleading. Similar claims were then reinstated in January 2013, after which the ACCC instituted proceedings against Homeopathy Plus! and Ms Sheffield.

Release number:
MR 321/14

Now let's get the ACCC going after the rest of the quackery industry.


But that's not all (14/3/2015)
One thing that did happen during February was an appearance in court for Fran Sheffield and Homeopathy Plus!. I was there on February 4 to hear the good news about how much the loss was going to cost the homeopath (a fine plus the other side's court costs) but in the normal manner of these things it was all put off until later. Both sides have to submit more information to the Court and the next scheduled appearance is April 22. You can see the order by clicking on the image.

I mentioned that the losers (Sheffield and Homeopathy Plus!) might be ordered to pay the costs of the other side. At the February 4 hearing the solicitors acting for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission turned up with about six trolley loads of documents. Leaving aside the hourly gouge by lawyers, just the photocopying bill at some dollars per page could break most people. I hope to be there on April 22, wearing my "Mr Schadenfreude" t-shirt for the denouement. (And a note for trivia collectors - the previous sentence contains two words borrowed by English from foreign languages to express things that would take much more than one word if expressed in English.)


And the good news just keeps on coming (17/10/2015)
On Tuesday, October 13, I had the great pleasure of sitting in Courtroom 22A and hearing Federal Court Judge Perry hand down judgment on homeopath Fran Sheffield and her Homeopathy Plus business. Ms Sheffield had attracted the ire of the authorities by claiming that homeopathy could be used as an effective substitute for pertussis vaccination.

Ms Sheffield was told that she can't make any claims about homeopathy and pertussis for five years, but here are the best parts of the judgment (the First Respondent is Homeopathy Plus as a corporation, the Second Respondent is Ms Sheffield personally, the Applicant is the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission):

5. Pursuant to s 224 of the Australian Consumer Law, the First Respondent pay to the Commonwealth within 30 days of the making of this Order by the Court a pecuniary penalty of $115,000 in respect of the acts constituting its contraventions of s 29(1)(a), (b) and (g) of the Australian Consumer Law.

6. Pursuant to s 224 of the Australian Consumer Law, the Second Respondent pay to the Commonwealth within 90 days of the making of this Order by the Court a pecuniary penalty of $23,000 in respect of the acts constituting her contraventions of s 29(1)(a), (b) and (g) of the Australian Consumer Law.

8. The Respondents pay the Applicant’s costs of the proceeding as agreed or assessed.

$138,000 in penalties, plus the ACCC's costs. The ACCC were employing one of the country's most expensive law firms and at one of the hearings they turned up with six of those wheelbarrows that lawyers use, each packed to the top with full three-ring binders. The photocopying charges by themselves could exceed the two court-ordered penalties. Ms Sheffield will have to sell a lot of bottles of water and very many hundreds-and-thousands cake decorations (at 15 cents each!) to pay these bills. You can read the full judgment here.

The ACCC issued a media release which summed up the matter quite well.

Court imposes penalty for false or misleading claims by Homeopathy Plus and Ms Frances Sheffield

14 October 2015

The Federal Court yesterday ordered Homeopathy Plus! Pty Ltd (Homeopathy Plus) to pay penalties of $115,000 and its director, Ms Frances Sheffield, to pay $23,000 in penalties for making false or misleading representations about the effectiveness of the whooping cough vaccine and homeopathic remedies as an alternative to the whooping cough vaccine, in breach of the Australian Consumer Law.

Homeopathy Plus and Ms Sheffield were also ordered to cease publishing the articles that contained the representations and remove them from the Homeopathy Plus website. The court also ordered that they be restrained for five years from making :

  • certain specified statements to the effect that the whooping cough vaccine is ineffective, for so long as the vaccine is effective in protecting a significant majority of people from contracting whooping cough; and
  • any statements or representations to the effect that homeopathic treatments or products are a safe alternative to the whooping cough vaccine, for so long as there is no reasonable basis in medical science to support those statements or representations and the vaccine is approved for inclusion on the National Immunisation Program by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

“Representations that may mislead consumers about the effectiveness of medical products or treatments are of significant concern to the ACCC. The potential consequences for the community of false or misleading representations about health and medical matters may be extremely serious” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.

“In this case, there was a real risk that consumers might be influenced by the representations not to use the whooping cough vaccine and instead to rely solely on homeopathic products for the prevention of whooping cough. This is against the advice of medical professionals and the Commonwealth Department of Health.”

“This decision demonstrates that businesses must take care to ensure that any statement or representation made about the effectiveness of a particular medical treatment or product is accurate and supported by adequate scientific evidence. It is no excuse that the person making false or misleading representations genuinely believes in a particular viewpoint and is a passionate advocate for a particular practice,” [the] Court said.

“Consumer protection issues in the health and medical sectors are a current enforcement priority for the ACCC. The ACCC has taken action against a number of businesses that the Court has found made false or misleading representations about medical treatments, and it will continue to do so.”

In her decision, Justice Perry found that Ms Sheffield’s evidence fell well short of providing any credible basis for the representations about the whooping cough vaccine, and that the publication of false representations about the effectiveness of the vaccine has potentially very serious and dangerous consequences. The Court noted that:

  • even if one consumer has been diverted from vaccinating, the potential consequences may be very serious and potentially fatal
  • the representations risked serious harm to the Australian community in potentially reducing the capacity of communities to cocoon vulnerable infants and others
  • the representations conveyed the existence of a reasonable basis in medical science for stating that a vaccine for a serious and potentially fatal disease was ineffective, despite the evidence emphatically establishing that that was false
  • the representations conveyed that homeopathy was a safe alternative means of preventing whooping cough, despite there being no reasonable basis in medical science for the representation.

Background

The Homeopathy Plus website contained statements to the effect that the whooping cough vaccine is “unreliable at best” and “largely ineffective” in preventing whooping cough, and that homeopathic remedies are a proven safe and effective alternative for the prevention of whooping cough.

In December 2014, the Federal Court found that Homeopathy Plus and Ms Sheffield engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false or misleading representations by publishing statements on the Homeopathy Plus website to the effect that:

  • the whooping cough vaccine is short lived, unreliable and no longer effective;
  • the vaccine may not be the best solution for, of limited effect, and is unreliable at best, in protecting against whooping cough; and
  • the vaccine is largely ineffective in protecting against whooping cough,

when in fact the whooping cough vaccine is effective in protecting a significant majority of people from contracting whooping cough.

The Court also found that Homeopathy Plus and Ms Sheffield engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct and made false and misleading representations to the effect that there was an adequate foundation in medical science for the statement that homeopathic treatments are a safe and effective alternative to the whooping cough vaccine, when in fact no such foundation exists and the vaccine is the only treatment currently approved for use and accepted by medical practitioners for the prevention of whooping cough.

Whooping cough is a highly infectious respiratory disease which is most serious in young children. The Australian Government Department of Health recommends children receive the whooping cough vaccine as part of routine childhood immunisation.

In April 2012, Homeopathy Plus removed representations from its website at the request of the ACCC, after the ACCC had expressed concerns they were misleading. Similar claims were then reinstated in January 2013, after which the ACCC to instituted proceedings against Homeopathy Plus and Ms Sheffield.

The statements that Homeopathy Plus and Ms Sheffield are restrained from making for five years are that the vaccine publicly available in Australia for whooping cough:

  1. is short-lived in protecting against whooping cough;
  2. is unreliable in protecting against whooping cough;
  3. is no longer effective in protecting against whooping cough;
  4. may not be the best solution for protecting against whooping cough;
  5. is of limited effect in protecting against whooping cough;
  6. is unreliable at best in protecting against whooping cough; and/or
  7. is largely ineffective in protecting against whooping cough,

for so long as the Vaccine is effective in protecting a significant majority of people who are exposed to the whooping cough infection from contracting whooping cough.

Release number:
MR 194/15

And was Ms Sheffield daunted by all this? Did hefty financial penalties for lying about homeopathy cause her to change her ways? Don't be silly. Stop asking such meaningless questions. Here is her newsletter, two days after the court stamped all over her and her business:


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