Since colloidal silver is quite obviously not a licensed medicine, I had my suspicions that it may be illegal to make any medicinal claims regarding it.
Following my latest enquiries, the MHRA have got back to me to confirm (in two separate emails) that this is indeed the case.
The MHRA said:
Colloidal silver was in use as an antibiotic until the nineteen thirties but the medical profession discontinued it in favour of more effective modern products. It has never been licensed as a medicine and is currently sold as food (in supplements) and as a cosmetic (in topical products)
The Food Labelling Regulations contain detailed provisions for both the labelling and advertising of food. In particular, any claim that a food has the property of preventing, treating or curing human disease is prohibited. This prohibition covers any implication that a foodstuff is capable of protecting against disease, infection or other adverse condition or relieving symptoms. Food safety law is administered and enforced locally on behalf of the Food Standards Agency by the Trading Standards Service.
You should therefore report your concerns to the appropriate Trading Standards Services who also administer and enforce cosmetics and consumer protection regulations.
I have replied to one of your enquiries earlier today but subsequently also received your e-mail of 18 May (below)
The Pharmaceutical Directive has been updated (Directive 2001/83/EC) and the definition of a medicinal product is now:
“Any substance or combination of substances presented as having properties for treating or preventing disease in human beings
Any substance or combination of substances which may be used in or administered to human beings either with a view to restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions by exerting a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action, or to making a medical diagnosis”
However, although medicines legislation takes precedence over overlapping legislation, the preamble in the Directive specifically excludes foods. 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.
I am not aware that there is a definitive list of “food supplements” and this may be because of differences across the various member states and the speed with which products may change. Supplements are only one category of food and I believe that colloidal silver products are simply sold as “food” which can mean anything you chew or swallow (and which is not a medicinal product).
Although there is no specific cosmetics regulations dealing with the matter of medicinal claims, extravagant or misleading claims for topical products may be regulated under consumer protection law or, in certain media, may be covered by the Advertising Standards Authority.
I hope this is helpful.
It certainly is helpful. I can now confidently make complaints to Trading Standards regarding any claims that colloidal silver may be used to treat, prevent or cure disease.
What is not so helpful is the reponse I had from the Food Standards Agency, who referred me to the Department of Health (or Welsh Assembly Government). The Department of Health unfortunately seem to be under the illusion that colloidal silver actually is a medicine after all. They said:
Thank you for your email of 19 May about colloidal silver. I have been asked to reply.
Responsibility for ensuring the safety, quality and efficacy of medicines lies with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). I note that you have written separately to MHRA and am informed that it will reply to you directly.
Tempting as it was to reply directly, explaining the MHRA position on this, I couldn’t:
Please do not reply to this email. To contact the Department of Health, please visit the contact page on the Department’s website.
I will of course get back in touch however possible – to find out if and how colloidal silver is regulated as a food or food supplement, and whether there are any more regulations surrounding its production and sale I ought to be aware of. They can’t get rid of me that easily.