The Whack – a – Mole Project and the TGA.

by Ken Greatorex



Whack-a-Mole was a popular 1970s arcade game which consisted of repeatedly hitting cartoon moles on the head with a cartoon hammer. Moles nevertheless kept cropping up with undiminished energy more or less at random; so the term Whack-a-mole came to signify “a repetitious and futile task.

Problems with Regulation of Therapeutic Goods

The situation regarding the regulation of therapeutic goods in Australia is unsatisfactory. The complaints process is frustrating, exhausting and often ineffectual. Complaints to the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA) must be made against one product or service at a time. Because such complaints are almost invariably made by volunteers, and there is no financial incentive to complain, only a relatively tiny number of questionable products ever get put under the microscope.

An astonishing 87 % of such complaints have historically been upheld. Yet the offending companies rarely receive more than “a slap on the wrists”.

The Whack-a-Mole Project 2017

Dr Ken Harvey AM (pictured above) is a well-known “serial complainer”. Although that term was coined as a slur, he wears it as a badge of pride.

Harvey and his students at Monash University School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (SPHPM) have recently embarked on the Whack-a-Mole Project.

The aim is to provide students with practical experience of the role of regulators in protecting the public from false and misleading therapeutic claims by product sponsors and health practitioners.

As a result of work submitted by SPHPM in 2016, a considerable number of individual complaints were upheld. In each case the manufacturer had made claims for the product which were not supported by evidence. Another way of saying that is that people were being asked to pay good money for remedies that did not work. These included:

Complaint 2016/09/023 ChinaMed Back and Knees Formula
Complaint 2016/09/024 Osteotron IV
Complaint 2016/09/025 Fertility Formula Male
Complaint 2016/10/008 Jes Extender
Complaint 2016/10/009 Thompson’s One-A-Day Milk Thistle 35000
Complaint 2016/10/012 HeadsUp
Complaint 2016/10/014 Blackmores Bilberry Eyestrain Relief
Complaint 2016/10/017 Nutra-Life BioActive Curcumin
Complaint 2016/10/019 Horny Goat Weed For Her
Complaint 2016/10/020 ChinaMed Cardiac Formula
Complaint 2016/10/022 Herbs of Gold Resveratrol AdvantAGE
Complaint 2016/10/023 Horny Goat Weed For Him
Complaint 2016/10/025 Sambucol
Complaint 2016/11/012 Dry Nights Formula
Complaint 2016/12/003 Blooms Coenzyme Q10 150 Max

The Whack-a-Mole Project’s high hit-rate using limited resources suggests that the number of ineffective therapeutic products on sale is actually much, much higher. It begs the question: Why is there so little official interest in  proper evaluation and regulation of over-the-counter therapeutic goods in Australia?

Find Out More about the Whack-a-Mole Project

  1. Come to Skeptics Café on December the 18th to hear Dr Harvey and his students debrief Whack-a-Mole 2017 in person.
  2. Read the article Monash University SPHPM “Whack-a-mole” project 2017
  3. Read the article Whacking Moles, a Pharmacist and the TGA
  4. Watch Dr Ken Harvey discuss the Whack-a-Mole project
  5. Search “Dr Ken Harvey” on this site

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