"There is certainly a consumer demand for these products," [Bennett] said. "I have no evidence to suggest they are efficacious. "It is about consumer choice for us and a large number of our customers believe they are efficacious."Bennett was speaking before House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, as part of a parliamentary investigation into the evidence behind homeopathy. The committe heard evidence from scpetics such as Dr Ben Goldacre, Edzard Ernst and Tracey Brown of Sense About Science, as well as advocates for homeopathy. You can read the Guardian's live blog (well, it was live yesterday) from the hearing for a full recap.
As I said, Bennett's comments have stirred up lots of criticsim of Boots online, including this excellent open letter from the Merseyside Sceptics Society, which I think sums up the argument rather well. Here's a snippett:
We call upon Boots to withdraw all homeopathic products from your shelves. You should not be involved in the sale of ineffective products, because your customers trust you to do what is right for their health. Surely you agree that your commitment to excellent patient care is better served by supplying only those products whose claims can be substantiated by rigorous scientific research? Or do you really believe that Boots should be in the business of selling placebos to the sick and the injured?
The support lent by Boots to this quack therapy contributes directly to its acceptance as a valid medical treatment by the British public, acceptance it does not warrant and support it does not deserve. Please do the right thing, and remove this bogus therapy from your shelves.
As the Merseyside Sceptics point out, as the leading pharmacy in Britain, a lot of people trust Boots, and the chain itself boasts a commitment to "providing easy access to quality healthcare services". By putting a product on its shelves, Boots immediately lends that product a degree of credibility. This is demonstrated by what Robert Wilson, chairman of the British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers, told the committee yesterday:
"Boots are a very important retailer, they sell a great deal of these products. If these products don't work beyond the placebo effect, why do people keep buying them?"It'll be interesting to see how Boots respond to the criticism - this is certainly a story to keep an eye on.