Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from the National Association of Health Stores

  We appreciate the opportunity to provide our comments on EQUAL for the consideration of your Committee, and hope that the following will be of some interest to you.

  We feel that this topic is closely associated with the ethos of health food stores within the United Kingdom. Many of these stores have existed for several decades, the first such type of shop having opened in Birmingham in 1898.


  The National Association of Health Stores (NAHS) was formed in 1931 in order to represent, protect, and support the natural product retailer within the UK. Members of the NAHS abide by our Constitution, which defines a health food store as,

    —  a retail outlet, trading from fixed premises in the United Kingdom, which offers a range of foods, food supplements, natural herbal and homoeopathic remedies and other related items aimed at maintaining the health of consumers. A "Health Food Store" will also educate consumers and provide information on holistic health care.

  The NAHS actively promotes the raising of standards within the natural products industry, and our eventual aim is for every member store to be capable of providing service to the consumer at the level of our Gold Standard—the Diploma in Health Food Retailing.

  Details of this course (and the lesser Certificate Course) are freely available from the Health Food Training School, and will be gladly provided for the Committee if so desired.


  Our understanding of the EQUAL initiative is that it originated from a review of Government spending on research, in order to focus such resources upon projects likely to deliver real and tangible benefits.

  We understand that the initiative was that the funding system be restructured in order that, when consideration was given to allocating funds, priority should be given to projects that are likely to:

    1.  result in developments that would be of tangible and marketable benefits to industry, or

    2.  result in developments that would be of real benefit in improving the quality of life in the ageing population of the UK.

  We believe that the aims have been a qualified success, in that research for industry has resulted in a variety of technological benefits.

  However, we have investigated the EQUAL initiative and have been unable to gather any evidence that demonstrable progress has been made in this area.

  As an Association that represents a retail sector that already does what it can to extend the quality of people's lives, we are disappointed in two ways,

    1.  That we had no knowledge of the EQUAL initiative until this Committee's inquiry was established. This has apparently been the first indication to the natural product retail industry that any such initiative was already (nominally) in place

    2.  That no discernible progress with this initiative has been made in recent years.

  We feel that our industry could play a vital role in EQUAL, as we have widespread access to the type of consumer that is already interested in this area, and that would be amenable to taking part in reputable research projects.

  The natural products industry, throughout the world, is replete with expertise in the fields that EQUAL should be concerned with; heart disease, (osteo)arthritis, cancer, and other degenerative conditions that destroy the individuals' ability to live a fit and healthy (but not necessarily longer) life.

  We know that you will be provided with adequate scientific evidence for your considerations, and do not feel that it is the role of the NAHS to compile such evidence for this Committee. However, we are most concerned that nothing appears to have been accomplished during the last decade, and would respectfully suggest that the UK could do worse than learn from other countries that have been pursuing the ideals of EQUAL for many years.

  We take the liberty of including (as Annex A) some contact names, addresses and mission statements of well-established institutions that could provide some valuable insight into the practical steps that might be taken in this area. Following this short selection, is a longer list of institute titles that demonstrate that in certain countries, Government Departments, educational institutions, and charitable bodies have actively pursued this area for many years (Annex A(2)).

  We welcome your Committee's interest in this area, and hope that you will recommend the continuance of EQUAL, but ensure that this area is developed in a meaningful and positive manner, as has been clearly accomplished in other countries.

7 January 2000

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