Rob Verkerk lays down some markers that help define ANH’s specific campaign approach and philosophy.
As the severity of threats to our ability to maintain access to natural health mounts, it is ever more important that the most effective strategies are implemented. Natural health faces probably the greatest threat yet encountered, as globally coordinated plans for highly restrictive legislation, dreamed up by powerful governments and corporations, are proposed or rolled out. These restrictions are falsely justified by a need to protect consumers from natural health products, proven to be easily the safest things we put in our mouths.
History gives us some insight over the damage that can be wreaked by regulation and scientific opinion when it is turned against approaches to healthcare that deviate from those taught at medical colleges. One such challenge, the effects of which the integrative, natural and ‘alternative’ medicine community still suffers from today, includes the infamous Flexner Report of 1910. The Report saw disciplines like naturopathy and homeopathy cast aside from the mainstream because Abraham Flexner deemed that the principles on which they were based did not conform sufficiently to those embodied by evidence-based, western, scientific medicine. Western medicine as we currently know it was therefore born post-Flexner. It then started to run amok in the period post-WWII when the massively growing field of organic chemistry started pumping out patented drugs, pesticides and other new-to-nature chemicals. You know the rest.
The challenges we face today are unprecedented. But they don’t come in the form of a single report. They come in the form of a mass of white papers, legislative proposals and partially and fully implemented laws. These laws don’t bite all at once. They are planned to act incrementally over many years so that we don’t get too upset about them. It’s what we often refer to as the ‘boil the frog slowly’ approach, in which the frog fails to jump out of the water as it becomes accustomed to the slowly increasing temperature of the water around it.
Not only does the regulation unfurl over many years, it is also exquisitely timed to coincide with carefully planned attacks against natural medicine, delivered by a media controlled heavily by some of the world’s most powerful business interests. This is what we now face in Europe with a raft of EU laws that will impact natural medicine. Many of them are already passed but have yet to be fully implemented. But their implementation dates are built-in and so we know the effects will be upon us in the years ahead. In the USA, we also see increasing threats to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) which liberalised America’s dietary supplement market following mass citizen protests against planned restrictions. There is no doubt that there is big pressure to harmonise the legal mechanisms in different parts of the world, this being another reason why we feel it’s essential to have a broad base of activity so we can monitor, influence or impact bad laws as they attempt to curtail our freedom or cause us harm.
It’s of no surprise that different people, groups and organisations have decided that there is more than one way to tackle these threats. In this blog, I am really just laying down some kind of a marker that explains a little more about why we do things at the ANH in the way that we do, whether it’s in Europe, the USA, or elsewhere.
Tackling regulatory problems head on
Some argue that it’s no longer appropriate to challenge the FDA or European authorities if they decide to impose pieces of legislation that restrict our freedom or access. They say that that these restrictions are borne out of conspiracy by world governments that aims to control people (including through genocide). The loss of sovereignty is part of this control mechanism. I personally live in Europe and the extent of the loss of national sovereignty of European countries over the last two or so decades beggars belief. As far as a genocide agenda goes, I haven’t seen any evidence of direct genocide being perpetrated by European institutions, but I see clearly how people are needlessly dying through a mismanagement of their health courtesy of the dominant, western, allopathic medical model.
I think many of us would tend to agree that globalisation is responsible for a loss of national sovereignty. The world is being increasingly divided up into large trading blocs, such as the European Union, or NAFTA, G20, APEC, the CAIRNS Group, ASEAN, and others. This is especially bad for our continued access to effective natural health products produced by smaller companies, that generally make the best products. These trading blocs basically want to do things that are good for the big businesses that have created them in the first place.
So, we agree that the restrictions come out of plans coordinated by some of the world’s most powerful governments, their agencies and of course a clutch of transnational corporations (oligopolies). We also likely agree that these forces find the notion of us managing our own health by natural means a complete anathema. They love the idea that we eat junk for much of our lives and then become ever-more dependent on their patented drugs. But as the pharma companies’ pipeline of new drugs wears thin, and as the patents for many of Big Pharma’s biggest earners begin to expire in the coming years, there is an ever greater incentive for them to grind down the non-pharma sectors of the natural products industry.
An example of this is the recent fanfare around a licensed drug which is nothing more than three synthetic B-vitamins that aim to help Alzheimer’s patients. The recent public announcement of a trial confirming the drug’s effectiveness was accompanied by lots of media recommending that consumers don’t go and get the folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 from their health stores. See how it works? It’s a shrewd game-plan that allows pharma to now step into the area that was predominantly occupied, from a retail and distribution perspective, by non-pharma players.
How we campaign
We are a natural health campaign organisation. We therefore campaign to protect and promote natural health. To do this we obviously need to engage with the political system, but to put to the top of our agenda a desire to change the political system itself would be an odd thing to do given our status. It would also be difficult to get a clear consensus on what ways to change the political system, given that natural health is essentially a non-partisan issue. I am neither aware of any consistent, single political view held by most natural health product consumers, nor am I aware of any significant political group that proposes that natural health should be the primary model in healthcare.
Where laws impede our fundamental rights and freedoms in relation to natural health, whether it’s our access to products, the practice of natural medicine or what we can say about natural health products, that’s where we are particularly active.
Social and political campaigns have the ability to join together all the special interests that are impacted, whether these relate to the distortion of our food supply, unjustified restrictions on our access to natural products, increased cultivation of GM crops, or, for that matter, any other relevant health, social, economic or environmental issue.
We like to think of ourselves as a bomb disposal team. We find out where the epicentre of the problem is and bring to bear a team of highly experienced people all working to minimise the damage that could otherwise be caused. As the word ‘Alliance’ in our name suggests, we work with others with shared interests as much as we can. The main tools we use to help us to do this work are what we refer to as ‘good science’ and ‘good law’. We believe that so many of the problems we face in the field of natural health are caused by the manipulation of science and the abuse of the legal system. We use this approach because it seems to work. Our track record, visible on our European and US sites, shows you what we’ve achieved.
We recognise it’s not the only thing that needs doing, and we appreciate the work being done by political campaigns that share a common interest. I should add; we don’t subscribe to or condone any political activity that promotes violence or inspires hatred. There are a few out there that think this is the way to go, but we strongly disagree with them.
What we campaign about
Here's a bit of a taster that looks at the sort of things we at ANH are campaigning for. These issues are actually clearly set out in the pages of our European and US websites.
But here are some of the things on our wish list. We want maximum freedom of choice when it comes to access to natual health. We would like to see a complete re-structuring of the way medicine is taught in medical schools. We want to support integrated systems of medicine that rely on predominantly biologically-compatible approaches to healthcare. We support the use of modalities that work with, rather than against, our physical and energetic bodies. We want to see a wide diversity of natural health foods and products on the market that help individuals to take responsibility for their health, either with or without support from practitioners. We want to see a completely new scientific and legal framework for natural health that protects, rather than bans, the most useful and most effective natural health products and information about them. We want people to understand the importance of avoiding genetically modified foods.
And what don’t we want? We don’t want to see traditional medicinal systems that have been evolving in places like China and the Indian subcontinent for millennia, crushed by misguided, over-precautionary regulation. We don’t like the idea that fluorosilicates, industrial waste from the fertilizer industry, are put in the public water supply to supposedly reduce tooth decay. There are better, less harmful ways of looking after our teeth that don’t involve putting industrial waste into every cell of our body. We also don’t want to see people being harmed by low frequency radiation from cordless and cellular phones, just because telecoms companies don’t want to pay to make their technology safer.
While doing our work we often get asked who else we work with. We really have worked very hard to build strategic alliances with those whose goals overlap with ours. This creates synergy that can deliver outcomes that are more than those which could be achieved if we worked separately. Conversely, there are some groups who share some of the same views on natural health with whom we don’t work, simply because to do so would be counter-productive. This includes those who promote aggressive or oppressive means as a way forward.
The final issue that I will turn over in this blog is the idea of running multiple tactical strands to counter any one threat. If there’s a bad law or bill out there, we say it can be a good idea to try to have it repealed or, if it has yet to see light of day, have it killed before it’s implemented. But because there’s a good deal of probability involved in your success over any particular challenge, we generally like to have a fall-back plan if at all possible. This might involve working to remove a particularly noxious or threatening law, or a provision of the law, or it might involve creating an amendment or even a minor tweak that neutralises a specific provision. Sometimes we might run several of these approaches together. Some people seem confused by this multiple stranded approach, as they can’t understand why we might both work to bring down a law while at the same time working to change it. They say that if you engage with the system in any way, you are party to it. We completely disagree and work for the best outcome we can get, bearing in mind there is no absolute certainty that any one tactic will be successful.
Good examples of our multi-stranded approach to specific challenges include the work we’ve done over the years on the EU’s Food Supplements Directive in Europe. First we tried to block it altogether, something we had just 2 weeks to do from a standing start as I founded ANH for this very purpose in early February 2002 and the law narrowly made it’s way through second reading in the European Parliament later the same month despite a late swing against it that we worked hard to create. Once passed, we sought to challenge it in the courts and, after having it referred successfully by the High Court in London to the European Court of Justice, the ruling provided important clarification and simplification of the directive. The benefits of this are ongoing for many players in the industry, particularly those reliant on natural sources of vitamins and minerals. Right now we are continuing to fight a petition to block the European Commission proceeding with a deeply misguided approach to harmonising maximum levels of vitamins and minerals EU wide.
We’re now doing it again with our collaboration with the European Benefyt Foundation aiming to protect non-European forms of herbal medicine that could otherwise be banned as of April 2011. Yes, we’ll need all the help that we can get, and anyone who feels strongly about this, whether or not you have a personal interest in Traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda or other forms of herbal medicine, please consider donating to our legal fund (please mark your donations ‘EU herb challenge’ in the PayPal comments section).
In the US, we use a similar approach. For example, we have opposed both the House and Senate Food Safety Bills because they threaten honest food and supplement producers with jail and will tend to drive small producers out of business and create even larger, industrial farms. But despite opposing these bills, we were able to change a vital provision of the Senate bill that would have committed the US to global harmonization of food and supplement standards through the guidelines and standards of Codex Alimentarius. So, while we continue to oppose the passage of the Food Safety Bill, you can rest assured that, if the bill does pass, its final form will be significantly better than if we’d done nothing.
So, there you have it, a little sketch that I hope helps to lay down a general marker about our guiding approach and philosophy here at the ANH.
We’re always interested in your feedback, so please let us know your thoughts.
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