Analysis of the MACCAH Reports

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
June 29, 2003

Analysis of the Reports of the
New Zealand Ministerial Advisory Committee on Complementary and Alternative Health (MACCAH)

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
The Ministerial Advisory Committee on Complementary and Alternative Health (MACCAH) was established in June 2001 under section 11 of the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000. It’s to advise the Minister of Health (who has delegated oversight to the Associate Minister, Hon Tariana Turia) on matters related to complementary and alternative medicine (“CAM”). Its scope includes “CAM” regulation, consumer information needs, research, efficacy and integration, and the contribution that complementary medicine might make towards achieving the goals of the New Zealand Health Strategy. The Committee is funded to run until June 2004.

The committee does not appear to have any members who are knowledgeable critics of “CAM” practices. Of its eight members, three practitioners are identified as having a “potential conflict of interest” because of their involvement with “CAM” practices, other practices acupuncture, and another has been an official at a school that has an antiscience philosophy. Although several knowledgeable critics applied when the committee was forming, none were appointed.

The April 2003 “Discussion Document”

In April 2003, the committee released a 46-page “discussion document” and invited comments. Here is the complete text with my comments interspersed.

My Conclusions and Recommendations

  • The committee appears to be dominated by proponents of irrational “CAM” methods. Knowledgeable critics appear to have had little input and little effect on the report’s outcome.
  • The discussion document addresses only whether “CAM” methods should be studied, promoted, subsidized, and/or regulated. It fails to identify any circumstances under which “CAM” methods should be criticized, banned, and/or dismissed as worthless.
  • The “key tasks” called for the committee to identify priorities for research on “specific specific complementary and alternative therapies.” However, the committee did not discuss research priority or identify a single “CAM” method that should have low priority.
  • The “key tasks” called for the committee to “provide advice on whether, and how, specified complementary and alternative health practitioners should be integrated into the mainstream health system.” However, the report identified no method that should be excluded.
  • The discussion document mentions several recommendations by the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP) but ignores the WHCCAMP minority report and the detailed criticism to which the majority report was subjected. In the United States, the report has a poor reputation, is rarely discussed, and has had no visible political effect.
  • Based on what I have seen, the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Complementary and Alternative Health has produced no useful recommendations and should be replaced by a science-based committee that focuses on consumer protection.

Stephen Barrett, M.D., a retired psychiatrist who resides in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has achieved national renown as an author, editor, and consumer advocate. In addition to heading Quackwatch, he is vice-president and of the National Council Against Health Fraud, a scientific advisor to the American Council on Science and Health, and a Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP).

In 1984, he received an FDA Commissioner’s Special Citation Award for Public Service in fighting nutrition quackery. In 1986, he was awarded honorary membership in the American Dietetic Association. From 1987 through 1989, he taught health education at The Pennsylvania State University. He is listed in Marquis Who’s Who International and received the 2001 Distinguished Service to Health Education Award from the American Association for Health Education. In 2003, the editors and readers of the medical journal MD Net Guide voted the Internet’s best site operated by an individual physican.

An expert in medical communications, Dr. Barrett operates nine Web sites; edits Consumer Health Digest (a weekly electronic newsletter); is medical editor of Prometheus Books; and is a peer-review panelist for several top medical journals. His 49 books include The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America and six editions of the college textbook Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions. One book he edited, Vitamins and Minerals: Help or Harm?, by Charles Marshall, Ph.D., won the American Medical Writers Association award for best book of 1983 for the general public and became a special publication of Consumer Reports Books. His other classics include Dubious Cancer Treatment, published by the Florida Division of the American Cancer Society; Health Schemes, Scams, and Frauds, published by Consumer Reports Books; The Vitamin Pushers: How the “Health Food” Industry Is Selling America a Bill of Goods, published by Prometheus Books; and Reader’s Guide to “Alternative” Health Methods, published by the American Medical Association.

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This article was posted on June 29, 2003.