Walmart And Homeopathic Medicines NPR's Scott Simon asks Nicholas Little of the Center for Inquiry about suing Walmart for the way it markets homeopathic medicines.
NPR logo

Walmart And Homeopathic Medicines

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/726941826/726941827" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Walmart And Homeopathic Medicines

Walmart And Homeopathic Medicines

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/726941826/726941827" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Walmart is being sued over what are called homeopathic medicines, not for selling them but for how they're sold. The Center for Inquiry has filed a lawsuit against Walmart for consumer fraud for putting and promoting homeopathic remedies, which are not supported by science, on shelves alongside medically approved medications. Nicholas Little joins us in our studios. He's vice president and general counsel of the Center for Inquiry. Mr. Little, thanks so much for being with us.

NICHOLAS LITTLE: Well, thank you for having me.

SIMON: We should make plain. Homeopathic is not herbal, right?

LITTLE: No. What homeopathy is - it has two principles. The first principle is the idea that like treats like. So if something causes a symptom, you use it to treat it. And somehow they come around to the idea that flu symptoms are caused by the heart and liver of a particular kind of duck so that they treat it with the heart and the liver of a particular kind of duck. But even more unscientifically, it's the - the second principle is the law of infinitesimal doses. So what homeopathy says is that the more you dilute a product - the further you dilute it down, the more powerful it becomes. And they base this on the idea that water has a memory. It can remember what is dissolved in it even when there is none of the alleged active ingredient left. This is one of the most ludicrous things suggested. And yet billions of dollars every year in the United States are spent on these products. And most people simply don't know what they're buying. They're being defrauded by the companies that manufacture them and by the retailers who market them.

SIMON: Now, to be clear, you're not calling for a ban with this lawsuit. But...

LITTLE: We're not. What our lawsuit is and what the Center for Inquiry is wanting in this is that, if they are going to be sold then it is the duty of the retailer to provide accurate information about the products and not to deceive the general public.

SIMON: Now, as I understand it, the FDA will certify that a homeopathic medication is safe, and it has the ingredients and says it does but not whether or not it works.

LITTLE: Absolutely. As long as something is listed in this big book, "The Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia," then you don't have to demonstrate that the product works.

SIMON: Why should the retailer take responsibility for this and not the manufacturer?

LITTLE: I think there's a responsibility for both of them. By displaying a product under children's cough release or, even worse, a product under asthma medication, which can kill children and does kill children - if you are displaying a product under asthma medication, you are making an affirmative claim that it treats asthma. And homeopathic products just don't treat them.

SIMON: What do you say to those people who might be listening now who say, look; I don't care what the research says. They help me.

LITTLE: Absolutely. That's - things have placebo effects. And at the Center For Inquiry, one of the most important things we're saying, I think, is that, if you, as a customer, want to buy this, that's your choice. It's a legal product. It can be sold. But we also are far more concerned that the person who doesn't - isn't looking for a homeopathic product, just wants their sick kid to feel better, actually doesn't buy one of these products by mistake.

SIMON: Nicholas Little is vice president and general counsel of the Center for Inquiry. Thanks so much for being with us.

LITTLE: Well, thank you for having me.

SIMON: We asked Walmart about this. And they say, quote, "our Equate private-label homeopathic products are designed to include information directly stating that the claims are not based on accepted medical evidence and have not been evaluated by the FDA. We take allegations like these seriously. And we'll respond as appropriate with the court."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.