EU funding homeopathy for cows

Euro cowThe #ten23 hashtag on Twitter is currently full of homeopathy skeptics currently up in arms over a Daily Mail article claiming that the EU are to spend 2 million euro on researching the use of homeopathy in livestock farming. However, rather than being another piece of Mail right-wing euro-bashing, it is in fact true.

Fernando Frias kindly furnished me with a copy of the AGRI commission’s latest budget ammendments, and it’s right there on page 35:

Pilot project — Coordinate resesarch (sic) on the use of homeopathy and phytotherapy in livestock farming

Calls upon the Commission to set up a pilot project to coordinate research on the use of homeopathy and
phytotherapy in livestock farming, in line with the motion for a resolution on antibiotic resistance in
which Parliament called for the use of antibiotics in livestock farming to be reduced and for alternative
methods to be used; such methods include the use of homeopathy and phytotherapy; the pilot project
should involve the collection of data as to what research projects in the field of homeopathy and
phytotherapy have already been set up by the various Member States’ universities and higher education
institutions, and what findings they have made; the pilot project should also investigate whether, and in
what framework, the universities involved cooperate.

Pilot project within the meaning of Article 49(6) of Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002 of
25 June 2002 on the Financial Regulation applicable to the general budget of the European Communities
(OJ L 248, 16.9.2002, p. 1).

The amendment is justified:

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem in the EU and worldwide. One problem is the use of antibiotics in
livestock farming. That is why research on alternative methods has to be moved forward, for example
homeopathy and phytotherapy.

A quick glance at the accompanying table confirms that the amendment will cost a cool 2 million euro. It has been tabled by the MEPs Ulrike Rodust and Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos, who are both members of the left wing group of Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

It may seem to be a noble idea, to investigate the possibility of reducing the amount of antibiotics given to livestock. So what are the problems here? First off, as myself and the 10:23 campaign have tried to make clear, homeopathy simply doesn’t work beyond placebo. It’s been around for over 200 years, and really doesn’t require any more research into it’s efficacy as far as I’m concerned. Secondly, there is the issue of ethics. If you treat livestock with homeopathy/placebo instead of antibiotics you are denying the livestock a proven treatment, which can lead to the animals suffering for no good reason. Finally of course, there is the issue of cost. 2 million euro is a lot of money to waste, regardless of the state of the global economy.

I think I’ve made myself clear on where I stand here, but I really have to address one other point that cropped up in the Mail article:

Animals cannot benefit from the placebo effect because they won’t realise they have been given the treatment, say critics.

The idea that animals cannot experience the placebo effect is total nonsense, for two reasons. Animals can respond to attention, the placebo effect isn’t just about taking pills. Also, it isn’t the farm animal that judges whether they are benefiting from a treatment, it’s the farmer. The farmer is very much open to a kind of ‘secondary’ placebo effect, where he or she believes that their animals are getting better because they have seen them treated. Hopefully that’s that silly notion put to bed!