As previously discussed, I have been advised by the MHRA that colloidal silver is not a medicine (and that it is therefore illegal to sell it and make medicinal claims). I have also had clear instructions from the Department of Health that I should complain to Trading Standards if colloidal silver is sold as food or a food supplement.
Even with FishBarrel and even though Ebay’s colloidal silver retailers seem to have recently disappeared into the ether, this is still a daunting prospect. A Google search turns up pages and pages of hits and I simply don’t have time to complain about them all individually. For this reason, I sent an email to my local Trading Standards office asking for advice.
I have pasted this below, together with their unhelpful response and my subsequent reply:
I have recently become concerned about the safety and efficacy of
various alternative health products and treatments (and marketing claims
made to promote them). In some cases, I believe vulnerable members of
the public could be discouraged from taking advice from qualified health
professionals. I also believe a substantial sector of the general public
assume that products sold in health food shops are not only efficacious,
but also safe and legal. I do not believe this is always the case and
have recently been making complaints about such products and therapies
to the Advertising Standards Authority and Trading Standards (via
Colloidal Silver is an example of such a product. It is widely available
online (and in health food shops) and sold with the understanding that
it can have medical benefits (for example, to prevent or treat
infection). I find this very worrying – as far as I’m aware, colloidal
silver has never been properly trialled or regulated. There is little
evidence of efficacy, there have been reported side effects and there
doesn’t appear to be any clear idea of what a safe dose would be.
It is clearly not a licensed medicine. It would therefore be illegal to
sell it and claim or imply that it will treat, prevent or cure disease.
I have already made a small number of complaints to Trading Standards
via Consumer Direct. I also contacted the MHRA Borderlines department
for advice as well as the Food Standards Agency and the Department of
Health (in the event that it is being sold as a food supplement in an
attempt to get around Medicines Regulations).
I have had several emails from the MHRA containing advice such as:
In practical terms, this means that if the product could be sold without
a medicines licence, for example, as a food, subject to the removal of
any medicinal claims, the Agency will look to the relevant authority to
deal with those claims, in these cases, the Trading Standards Service.
The MHRA’s primary objective is to safeguard public health by ensuring
that all medicines on the UK market meet appropriate standards of
safety, quality and efficacy and only a small part of the work involves
deciding the status of borderline products. Colloidal silver has been
marketed as an “alternative” for several years and is a popular product
but there is no reliable, clinical evidence to suggest that it is
effective as an antibiotic or other medicinal product.
The Food Standards Agency referred me to the Department of Health, who
yesterday confirmed that colloidal silver is not a permitted ingredient
in food supplements. They advised me to contact my Local Authority’s
Trading Standards department (ie yourselves) to investigate the sale of
any food product or food supplement containing colloidal silver.
Since Colloidal Silver is neither a medicine nor a food supplement, I
can’t see how it can legally be sold as either.
It is so widely available that I do not have time to make individual
complaints about each retailer. A quick Google search turns up a
seemingly endless list. This is just hits from the first two pages:
(already reported to Consumer Direct and ASA)
Could you please advise?
Their unhelpful response was as follows:
Can you provide us with a little more information?
When and where have you seen the product for sale?
I was all fired up, fresh from complaining about osteopathy and the Guardian and fired back an immediate reply:
It is for sale widely online and I have provided links at the bottom of my
original email. They were all found to be selling colloidal silver yesterday
when I composed my original email to you. As I said then, they were just
from the first two pages of Google hits. I also saw lots of examples of the
product for sale on Ebay a couple of weeks ago (but they were not apparent
yesterday – presumably Ebay have clamped down on this).
As I said in my original email, I can complain in detail about a small
number of individual sellers (and have done so already, via Consumer
Direct), but I simply don’t have time to search out every single retailer. I
don’t know if perhaps it would be less time-consuming to challenge larger
agents such as Amazon and PayPal while also publicising (perhaps via the
MHRA and/or Department of Health) the illegality of the product?
Could you please advise further?
I will of course blog any interesting developments.