BBC takes Dragons’ Den episode off iPlayer amidst concerns over ‘misleading’ product claims

Virgin Radio

26 Jan 2024, 11:04

Credit: BBC

Backlash erupts as entrepreneurs' pitch raises questions about ME product on national television.

In the latest twist of the entrepreneurial tale on Dragons’ Den, the BBC has pulled an episode from its iPlayer platform after facing criticism and concerns over an ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) product pitched by entrepreneur Giselle Boxer.

This unprecedented move comes after Boxer walked away from the Den with six offers, including guest Gary Neville, for a £50,000 investment and a 10 per cent stake in her business, making history on the show.

However, the celebration was short-lived as campaigners and viewers raised eyebrows over what they deemed 'unfounded claims' by her product.

Airing on January 18, Giselle Boxer's pitch for her business, Acu Seeds, garnered wide spread attention for not only securing the multiple offers but also for the controversial claims that arose from both her product and her personal journey to recovery.

During her pitched the entrepreneur, narrated her overcoming the condition, that is commonly referred to as chronic fatigue, through a combination of diet changes, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, and her flagship product – £30 gold-plated ear seeds kits.

"Four years ago, I was diagnosed with ME," she began, revealing that the diagnosis left her: "mostly housebound, unable to walk for more than five minutes without having to get back into bed.

"I was told by doctors that I would never recover, work again or have children."

However, despite this tragic diagnosis and the NHS stating that there currently is no cure for her condition, Boxer believes that her holistic, homeopathic approach 'aided' her 'recovery within 12 months'.

Notably, she developed the prototype and business model during her maternity leave, which suitably impressed the dragons.

Mostly in awe of her substantial margins for profit, as her product only costs £3 to produce but retails at aforementioned £30, Boxer eventually secured a deal with Diary of a CEO presenter and youngest entrepreneur amongst the dragons, Steven Bartlett, for 15% of the business.

Adding some spirituality to the facts and figures world of business, Boxer went on to claim that she'd chosen Bartlett because she'd been: "told [she] was going to meet a man called Steven and that he was going to be really important."

Although this seemingly celestial kinship between plucky upstart and a harden business mogul may seem like a happy ending, the episode has since drawn criticism for what many see as 'unfounded claims' from Boxer's product.

The ME association in particular has claimed that the Acu Seeds, which claim to naturally relieve pain, by placing small beads onto the ear that send signals to the brain and body to relax the nervous system, as misleading and as providing false hope to already vulnerable patients.

The association has since reported Acu Seeds to the Advertising Standards Agency, and written to the BBC and chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport committee, and chairman of the health and social care committee, after claiming Giselle has misled people.

The letter says, according to Mail Online: "People who have ME/CFS are often on very low incomes and in the absence of any effective medical treatment are very vulnerable to these sort of unsubstantiated therapeutic claims.

"They are fed up with the way in which unproven and expensive treatments are regularly being promoted to them.

"This programme has therefore caused a great deal of upset and anger in the ME/CFS [Chronic Fatigue Syndrome] patient community."

It goes on to say that none of the panel asked any questions about "whether there was any scientific evidence of safety and efficacy for this product", with Dr Charles Shepard, Hon Medical Advisor for The ME Association, adding to the publication: "These sort of expensive commercial products and devices should not be promoted to very vulnerable sick people until they have been properly assessed for safety and efficacy in clinical trials – in exactly the same way that drug treatments are."

Support for the backlash has exploded across social media with many wondering why a product with 'no scientific backing' was allowed to be effectively sold on national television.

Following the backlash, Giselle has spoken out and said she was recruited by Dragons’ Den producers, telling The Mirror: "Funnily enough they [the BBC] contacted me and I received an email from a researcher there and I initially thought it was a spam email.

"We went through the different stages of the application process and there was so much due diligence and they really looked into every part of my business before I went in to pitch to the Dragons."

She added to the publication that she ‘never said the ear seeds are a cure’, continuing: "I have always said ME is a complex condition and that a combination of healing approaches is what I believed supported my recovery."

On Thursday, a BBC spokesperson told PA News Agency: "We’re taking the concerns raised seriously, so we are reviewing the episode and therefore it’s currently not available on iPlayer."

The corporation had earlier defended the programme, saying it ‘features products from entrepreneurs and is not an endorsement of them’ and Giselle is sharing a ‘personal experience that led to a business creation.’

In spite of the backlash, since Giselle's 'dream come true' business proposal, it’s now been revealed that Steven’s brother Jason has been appointed as director of Acu Seeds, which just days ago changes its name to East Healing.

According to documents on Companies House, his appointment came one day after the episode aired, where Steven scored a stake in her business.

Dragons’ Den airs Thursdays at 8pm on BBC One and iPlayer.