Dragons’ Den ear seeds controversy: BBC adds disclaimer to Acu Seeds episode after ME charity backlash

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BBC adds disclaimer to Dragons’ Den Acu Seeds episode following complaints from ME charity

The BBC has defended a recent episode of Dragons’ Den which was criticised by a healthcare charity for promoting a product aimed at those with ME. The episode originally aired on January 18, was removed from BBC iPlayer on January 25, but has since been restored online with a disclaimer.

Giselle Boxer, a businesswoman based in Sheffield pitched her Acu Seeds company, claiming that she had used “diet, acupuncture, Chinese herbs and ear seeds" to aid her recovery from ME (a chronic fatigue illness) within 12 months, and that this had inspired her product.

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Boxer pitched her product to the five dragons and guest investor, football pundit Gary Neville. It was a significant moment in Dragons’ Den history, as it marked the first time that a contestant received six separate offers as every dragon and Neville competed to invest.

Giselle Boxer pitched her alternative medicine business Acu Seeds on Dragons' DenGiselle Boxer pitched her alternative medicine business Acu Seeds on Dragons' Den
Giselle Boxer pitched her alternative medicine business Acu Seeds on Dragons' Den | BBC

Boxer was offered £50,000 for 10% of her business from every dragon except Steven Bartlett, who wanted 15%. However, Boxer said she had been told she would meet a man named Steven who would be very important to her. She countered with 12.5% and the pair agreed to the deal.

Since the episode aired, Boxer’s website states that there has been “unprecedented demand”, and that they are currently sold out, with pre-orders being accepted.

Why did the Dragons’ Den episode provoke backlash?

Following the episode airing, an open letter organised by Action for ME expressed concern over how the pitch was presented in the BBC show.

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They claimed that Boxer’s pitch suggested that her ear seeds product was responsible for her recovery, and "amounts to an unfounded claim that this form of alternative medicine can cure ME".

The NHS website states that treatments for ME that could relieve symptoms include painkillers, supplements, and dietary changes. The website adds that “there is not enough evidence that [complementary medicine] is helpful for ME”.

Steven Bartlett invested in Acu Seeds on Dragons' DenSteven Bartlett invested in Acu Seeds on Dragons' Den
Steven Bartlett invested in Acu Seeds on Dragons' Den | BBC/BBC Studios

How has the BBC responded to the Dragons’ Den backlash?

Initially the episode was removed from BBC iPlayer but was later added with a disclaimer. A message above the episode synopsis on iPlayer reads: “This programme has been edited since broadcast to clarify aspects of the Acu Seeds pitch. Advice should always be sought from a qualified healthcare provider about any health concerns.”

During the episode itself as Boxer discusses her business, a message appears on the screen stating: “Acu Seeds are not intended as a cure for any medical condition and advice should always be sought from a qualified healthcare provider about any health concerns.”

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A BBC spokesman said: “Dragons' Den features products from entrepreneurs and is not an endorsement of them. Dragons' Den shows real businesses pitching to investors to lift the lid on what happens in the business world.

“This episode features an entrepreneur sharing their own, personal experience that led to a business creation."

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