Rob Verkerk PhD, founder and executive and scientific director

British Prime Minister David Cameron has put his country on notice to determine by referendum the UK’s future in relation to the EU on Thursday, 23 June. All the news wires are jammed with chatter about it. David Cameron may be remembered as the PM who renegotiated the UK’s relationship with the EU, perhaps even triggering significant reform. Or was he the PM who had to leave office because he no longer had the support for the majority of his country which made clear it wanted out of the EU.

Last Thursday, 18th February, I was asked to give the Jack Noah Memorial Lecture at the 2016 Lecture and Lunch of the Health Food Institute (HFI) in London. The HFI is the key professional body promoting training and excellence in the UK health food industry.

Natural health comes of age

In essence, I made a case for why, putting aside the threat of restrictive regulation, there’s never been a more relevant time for natural health. I showed how the ‘omics’ revolution and epigenetics provided the ideal scientific backdrop for this sector. I laid out a roadmap for how concerted collaborations and strategic partnerships between health stores, a diverse array of healthcare professionals and lifestyle coaches, personal trainers and gyms could provide one of the most crucial community-based health services, at a time when chronic conditions and diseases of ageing were at risk of breaking the National Health Service (NHS).

Don’t wait – just do it!

There was no need to wait and seek approval by health authorities – the grassroots were already gagging for it and had yet to be dissuaded by paid-for anti-natural health headlines intended to make the masses lose their ‘faith’.

Robert Verkerk giving a talk at HFI lunch on Twitter

You can’t escape the regulatory threats, but you can stand up to them, resist them and even defeat them some of the time.

Stand up and be counted

During my talk, I emphasised the importance of challenging regulatory decisions where national authorities had been over-zealous in their interpretation of the law. The courts need only be used as a last resort, and a lot of the time regulators need to be educated as to their legal capacities and the surrounding case law. This tactic helps to build a system of precedents that makes for a more secure, proportionate and level playing-field for operators within the sector.

Being paralysed by fear or refusing to engage because of a condition we sometimes refer to as ‘regulatory burn-out’ is no way forward. We must face, eye to eye, the double-headed monster of bean-counting, prejudiced regulators with our sharpened tools, imbibed in the most erudite of human rights, constitutional and competition law, laced with a thorough understanding of the relevant science.

I explained how this approach was proven to deliver results and companies working cooperatively with it were the ones benefiting, moving forward, expanding their markets and the myriad opportunities provided by the emergence of epigenetics and other health sciences that were putting nutrition and lifestyle medicine in the hottest driving seat in healthcare.

Regulatory nooses ‘made in EU’

Nearly all of the most restrictive and limiting legislation facing UK operators in the natural health sector emanate from Brussels. Any product deemed ‘too effective’ can be arbitrarily classified as an unlicensed drug given the super-wide remit of EU drug laws. An innovative extraction process applied to a herb, especially one that has historically been used primarily outside of the EU, can be arbitrarily classified as a non-authorised novel food. These are the two big roadblocks for products. But for commercial operators to flourish in the marketplace, they need to be able to communicate the benefits of their products to consumers based on the available science. That’s where the EU’s defective Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation bites. This law, affecting all operators in the 28 EU member states and half a billion strong population, now specifically bans over 2,000 health claims that have long been made on food and ingredients used in food supplements.

It may be a somewhat grim regulatory outlook, but there are still workarounds and ways forward for those prepared to think outside the box. Growth and innovation is still there for those prepared to walk the minefield of EU law. Should you care to look, shining examples are there for all to see.

€64 million question: ‘Is Brexit better for natural health in the UK?”

Unsurprisingly, when I finished my presentation at the HFI, one of the senior representatives of the UK industry asked the inevitable: “Would we be better off exiting the EU?

For a moment I felt like a politician, one who’s trying to tread the fine line that serves to avoid alienating huge swathes of the electorate. The momentary pause preceding my answer was however not any attempt to withhold my views, it was linked to how best to communicate the juxtaposition of facts as we know them.

Once my thoughts were gathered, my answer went something like this. If I had any confidence that the British regulators were free thinking, liberty-minded individuals whose recent form was merely the result of EU laws having been enforced on them, I would have said simply and unequivocally: exit and remove the burden of those infernal EU laws.

But I have spent too much time looking into the whites of those eyes, seeing how the UK regulators have been among the key draughtsmen of EU laws, and how they have become the ultimate ‘gold-platers’. The worst excesses of ‘bean-counting’ and most restrictive possible interpretation of laws I had witnessed have come courtesy of UK regulators, especially those from the MHRA.

The ultimate irony in all of this, as well as being something of a curved, back-spinning ball, is that the most effective resolutions to UK restrictions on products have been informed either by case law from the European Court of Justice or from evidence of safe use and ‘mutual recognition’ in Continental Europe. You can’t make this stuff up!

The fact that these justifications are presently the most useful tools available to those of us passionate about natural healthcare is of course, in itself, not necessarily sufficient reason to stay ‘in’, so aligning with the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign.

But there is far more at stake than just natural health, and it’s interesting that Chris Grayling MP, leader of the House of Commons and a long-standing critic of unfair EU restrictions against natural health, was the first member of Cameron’s cabinet to indicate his intention to campaign for ‘Brexit’.


Huge uncertainties exist either way. Exiting will do a lot more than saving the £10 billion annual payment into EU coffers. Some big business leaders are still convinced that the returns make it worth it, the ‘in’ campaign perhaps optimistically estimating the return as around £10 for every £1 invested.

While the UK would lose its seat as a single voice on the EU’s now crowded 28-seat table, it would reclaim some of its long-lost sovereignty. Cameron wasn’t up for joining the Eurozone or sharing police forces or armies, but the trade arrangements would always mean playing the game with the 40,000 or so directives and regulations born in Brussels.

Would exiting mean that London would lose its status as a financial capital, or could it become strengthened, morphing into a Western version of Singapore in the process? How much can we learn from the experiences of Norway and Switzerland? Interestingly, both have chosen to harmonise a good many of their laws with the EU in any event, and neither have had too many issues forging trade deals either with the EU or other countries further afield. It’s worth remembering also that both Norway and Switzerland have specific regulations affecting natural health that are more stringent than some in the EU.

The questions you can generate by thinking through the possibilities are almost endless. Would the Scottish sign up for the EU independently of England or Wales? Would access to the single market of the EU really be lost following an exit? And what about the new trading relationships that can be forged with more distant lands, currently out of bounds for those entrenched in the ‘united states’ of Europe.

While no one can purport to having 20:20 vision over the current uncertainty that abounds – should the British public vote on 23 June to exit:

  1. Even with the greatest efficiencies and best intentions of the British law-making process, any lifting of the regulatory burden on the natural health sector will take years to manifest;
  2. British law-makers are unlikely to suddenly become leopards who changed their spots. They could as easily draft restrictive laws for the UK as they can for the EU, and;
  3. Our existing reliance on case law precedents set in the European Court of Justice will be lost.

Making a decision to ‘get out’ or ‘stay in’ is probably not one that should be made on the basis of what we think might or might not happen to natural health or commercial freedom of speech alone.

We should probably be thinking bigger picture. We should pay due attention to issues like sovereignty and self-determination. Britons need to think about the kind of place they would be happier to bring up future generations. If the UK decides to exit, one thing is for sure: The real work will really need to begin. It will require huge, democratic pressure from the people to keep the now-isolated pen-pushers on track, working as servants to civil society in the manner originally intended when the Westminster system and democracy was first born over 900 years ago.


  1. Nice reasoned piece.

    Among the most depressing aspects of the ‘Stay IN Campaign’ is the assertion that Britain is not a sufficient force to look after itself in the world, that without the EU, it will be disadvantaged and its prospects dimmed. Both sides of the IN/OUT debate agree that the EU is broken, they simply disagree on how to put it right.

    The reasons to exit are:
    It is democratic to bring government a little closer to the people.
    Savings – We will save some £10bn a year (enough to reduce income tax by more than £1,000 per person per year by raising the personal allowance to £14,000).
    Corruption: Auditors have not signed off the EU’s accounts every year for the last 20 years. Try running your business like that, you’ll probably have done time inside !
    We will be free to trade more freely with the rest of the world and maintain our links with Europe. BMW & Mercedes will not suddenly stop selling cars in the UK, the day after Brexit will bring the pragmatism of deal doing. We may have to sign country by country agreements to trade with them but more likely panicking Brussels will give us associate membership of the union, if we want it !
    We can regain control of our borders which will enable us to refine our immigration policy and be more selective. If we need unskilled labour, we can accept it and if we need super skilled workers from other places we can set the bar lower, but we won’t need to take anyone who happens to have won a passport to get into Europe through Greece, Slovakia, Bulgaria or Latvia etc etc. We can put the people traffickers out of business.
    The IN campaign have fear as their main weapon, they enlist their big business sponsors and their diplomatic friends in far off places like the US to warn us of non existent risks if we leave. Very patronising, infact as patronising as David Cameron pretending his EU deal for Britain is some sort of breakthrough. Brexit will be the beginning. We will rediscover our feeling of being ‘free’ and accountable to ourselves. Free to benefit from our ingenuity, creativity and hard work. We will end up doing more (not less) trade with Europe and on better terms.

  2. Yes, Rob is right about the UK regulators. However, my argument for Out is that with the UK outside the EU it will suddenly be possible for Parliament to directly influence UK laws and regulation. That is, it will be possible for UK VOTERS (!) to directly have a say about things such as vitamin bans. Today the corrupt UK regulators can influence EU regulation behind the scene and no one understand that byzantine labyrinth – and feedback mechanism back to the UK. With the UK outside the EU it will suddenly become a national political issue.

    The de facto vitamin regulation in the UK is much more liberal compared to the EU, just do a google of UK supplement sellers. A number of online sellers are pushing the formal rules but the lax/lazy UK regulators don’t really enforce every little petty rule. Considering this I think that any attempt by a national UK regulator to “ban vitamins” would be met by a popular uproar with angry letters and phone calls to the MPs.

  3. I do not agree with any part of this relatively neutral, perhaps even bland assessment. As a donor to your organisation, I am very, very disappointed that ANH is not coming out with clear advice to those who value freedom of choice.

    Yes, you may be right that “Even with the greatest efficiencies and best intentions of the British law-making process, any lifting of the regulatory burden on the natural health sector will take years to manifest”.

    However this misses the point entirely. What cannot be doubted is that

    1) The squeeze on natural medicine, freedom of choice and availability of information has been as a direct result of our membership of this inept waste of taxpayers money of an organisation.
    2) With Brexit, the people who make the decisions in the UK will once again be democratically ACCOUNTABLE to an electorate who can remove them if they do a lousy job.
    3) The people who have framed the appalling restrictions, affecting every aspect of natural health products, and the public’s freedom to obtain them and learn about them were all unelected, non UK officials with no responsibility or accountability to anyone in the UK or indeed anywhere else.
    4) Before the EU officials decided to stick their inept and self interested snouts, ever influenced by the lobbying pressure from big pharma, into an industry they clearly did not understand, the result of which has been dreadful and disproportionate restriction after another, the UK had enjoyed a wonderful era of freedom in this area. Clearly dangerous and toxic natural products were banned by the Drugs Act 1968, but by and large consumers were relatively free to put what they chose into their bodies and retailers relatively free to provide them. Indeed for 500 years – since the reign of Henry VIII it has in the UK been “lawful to every person being the King’s subject, having knowledge and experience of the nature of Herbs, Roots and Waters within any part of the King’s dominions, to practise, use and minister in and to any outward sore, uncome, wound, apostemations, outward swelling or disease, any herb or herbs, ointments, baths, pultes and amplaisters, according to their cunning, experience and knowledge in any of the diseases, sores and maladies before-said… without suit, vexation, trouble, penalty, or loss of their goods”. All that began to change when the the economic organisation, the EEC changed into the political organisation, the EU without the consent of a single British citizen through the ballot box.
    5) Continued membership of this dreadful and entirely undemocratically accountable organisation, can and will only result in yet more restriction of the availability, method of production, ability to promote, and sharing of information of natural medicines, given the inappropriate influence of vested interested (in this case big pharma) whenever and wherever democratic accountability is thrown out of the window. Look at the history of the last 10 years, and you can see that our future in the EU can only go in one direction. The trajectory could not be clearer.

    My company will not be donating to the ANH again unless the organisation gives a clear guideline to anyone who values freedom in health choice to seek the path more likely to restore our liberties. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am shocked and incredibly disappointed that ANH are willing to blow it! You guys are supposed to be protecting our freedoms, not shilly-shallying or equivocating when he have a chance of getting them back!!!

    1. Mark, we hear your anger and frustration, and are deeply sorry to lose your support given the work we’ve done to help safeguard the natural health sector over the last 15 years. But, with due respect, you do not deal with the UK regulators or take responsibility for stopping them banning products on a regular basis the way we do. If you think I was endorsing the EU system of laws, you have misread the article. I was however letting our readers know how among the key mechanisms we and others use to save natural health products from the ravishes of UK regulators, throwing case law from the ECJ at them, sometimes with the threat or even stated intention of legal action, is key. In the the natural health world, it is a fact, bland or otherwise depending on your view, that ECJ case law will become irrelevant in the eyes of UK regulators. Again, with due respect, I think you may have missed another point, that the UK regulators are themselves directly engaged in drafting some of these horrendous excesses of regulation and having interacted with them for nearly 15 years, we are saying we don’t expect them to loosen up following Brexit. MPs can be voted out by an electorate, but the drama we face, irrespective of whether the UK is in or out of the EU, is heavily down to the kind of mindset among civil servants, that are much harder to remove by democratic means.
      If you read the piece more carefully, I was trying to set some realistic expectations of what would be required for Brexit. The 3 points I reference in the 3rd paragraph from the end are not widely recognised by Brexit supporters in the natural health area, so that was the point of making them. They need simply to be factored in. Following this, I make the case that matters such as sovereignty might be the real decider, as they are for me. As I have also stated, I believe there would need to be very powerful and unified pressure on national regulators and the political system to bring them to a point where they will make decisions that are supportive of natural health. Your rose-tinted view of life without the view must not ignore the intimate role the MHRA has long had with drug companies, including GSK, the second largest drug company in the world. London is also the home of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Even if the EMA was to move following Brexit, it will take years to dilute out the kind of anti-natural health sentiments that lies deep in the psyche of British regulators.

  4. Whilst the influence of a ‘globalist top down technocracy’ is evident within the UK – there is a psychological – indeed spiritual opportunity in restating the desire and appreciation for sovereignty of will – not merely for national entities – but the very idea OF free willingness of consenting cooperation. In short our Humanity. The so called ‘trade’ agreements are devices to shift power to corporations – whose transnational courts will have authority to financially ‘dis-incentivise’ any acts or laws that impinge on corporate profits. There will also be the ‘harmonising with US regulatory parameters – many of which leave US citizens extremely vulnerable to GMO/Glyphosate and a range of toxins that our precautionary principle has held off. I’m sure you are aware of a number of health adverse examples corporate hegemony and plunder that seek to remove any remaining protections of cultural or political resistance or immunity to infection. But the ownership and control of our biology – environmental and physical is already in motion. Now it may well be that there will be just as strong a movement for the UK as an non EU state to be signed up to this subjugation and reforming of society to absurd and inhuman attempts to control Life – even at cost of our Humanity – because our Soul has ever been the cost we pay for the illusion of power over Life.
    And our core humanity is a focus from which to call brotherhood across any political divide – insofar as political intent is the serve Humanity – rather than shape or coerce or indeed imprint it.
    There is no transparency in the EU nor accountability – and though there are courts of appeal where some victories can be won – is that not a carrot into a parlour in which a big stick can simply dictate terms. yes some token illusion of ‘democracy’ will be enacted.
    From true sovereignty is the capacity for communication of speaking and listening, thinking and discerning, as a foundation for well-founded relationships with a like quality of willingness across borders and differences. Yes to unified purpose and federations of shared interest – but no to the form of union and the promise of avoiding war in exchange for a monopoly of force and power extending via tools previous systems of control couldn’t have dreamed of.
    Without a core awakening to the nature of spin and coercion as belonging to deceit and disintegrity – and its result in the world we now ‘share’ without in fact truly sharing much of the joy of living at all, there is no foundation excepting lots of separate issue-led campaigns. I’m sure many can feel a common antipathy to the state of the world as it has become and seems hell bent on becoming – but we also need a common sense of positively embraced humanity so as not to be negatively defined.
    I felt to write after reading your EU related speech – and let it take its course 😉
    warm regards

  5. At least we have elected representatives in the UK we can exert that pressure on. We do have massive opportunity with social media to have real influence. The current rules and regulations are decided by an unelected cabal in Brussels and rubber stamped by the poodle MEPs. The corruption of truth is so massive in the EU it must implode eventually and may even do that before the two years of Brexit can take place.
    Times are really are a changing.
    PS If the UK cannot go it alone what chance is there for a collection of countries that cannot make a go of it.
    PPS As I am typing I am listening to Today and the coming collapse of Ireland.

  6. The EU model of governance is extractive and will extract wealth from the individual and obstruct and destroy the commercial sectors resulting in the wealth sucked into the central, controlling elite. It is a model of governance that has been practiced globally over the centuries. The outcome for the citizens is poverty and human rights abuses. Eventually the model fails. One of the more recent examples is Russia. China has the same model and unless radical reform is implemented at the top, it too will fail. The signs have been evident for some time.

    UK withdrawal is the only option. The EU is technically bankrupt. If UK withdraws and withdraws its full financial contribution, then the EU will fall apart. Whilst many consider this a disaster. It provides and fantastic opportunity for the UK to grasp this opportunity and lead the way setting new model for a democratic, free market to support creativity among individuals and commercial enterprise. It offers a glorious opportunity to trade on a global basis, creating wealth for the individual and commerce. This is the only way to increase the living standard of individuals, allow them the freedom to live their lives, and will encourage creative innovation, new products, new ideas and creative wealth.

    If Uk exit Eu, it also opens up the opportunity to radically reform UK governance because the old medieval systems needs radical restructuring into a system that is fit for the 21st century and focused on providing a service for the citizens that the citizens want. The taxpayer pays for a service which it currently does not get. A revolution is needed.

    As the immigration crisis shows, individuals want a quiet life with a good standard of living. The option is so obvious.

  7. Your last paragraph with particular attention to the last sentance really places the emphasis squarely where it should have been & now should be. The UK needs to pull away from the EU vortex and re-arrange itself back into a democratic society. Over 50 yrs of subjugation & control by a small number of unelected people has all but broken our once great nation-not what millions in WW2 fought for-our society took hundreds of years to develop-our religious ideology, our culture, our way of life has not to be destroyed.

  8. Great article Rob.
    I’ve always been anti-Europe due to the stories I heard as a young Naturopathic/ Osteopathic graduate in the early 1980s. With their restriction on practice of ‘alternative’ medicine’ always being a significant view. I was wondering if things had changed but unfortunately it seems they haven’t so you’ve helped me make up my mind to vote ‘out’!

  9. I am a very strong supporter of natural health and have been appalled by what has been described by everyone above. And I can see everyone’s arguments, believe me! TTIP is another reason to vote out. However, I am a trade unionist and I really worry what would happen if this Government was given a free rein to get rid of worker’s rights. I see it happening already, but if there were no EU safeguards we would go back to the worst excesses of the 19th century. I’d say I was just tipping over into voting to stay for those reasons. I also find it ironic as a Scottish “yes” voter, that some of the people who told us we were ‘better together’ now “want their country back”.

    1. I also fear a Tory government freed of the EU constraints. But at least UK voters have a fair chance of kicking them out in the next election. That is much better. It is called democracy.

      Even IF an an Out decision would cost jobs, business investments etc. it is worth the price. National self-determination and democracy is much more important than any alleged short-term benefits from an EU membership.

      And UK leaving will be a devastating blow to the EU ruling class. EU’s budget will collapse, and the Brexit will be an inspiration for other reluctant EU members to leave as well (Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Holland, Ireland, Greece, maybe even France). Brexit is a once in a life time opportunity to slay the monster.

  10. Hi
    It comes down to the fact that the EU is undemocratic and why would we want to give away are rights to elect or remove our representatives that make our laws. If we cannot remove the Commissioners (the EU government) then we are open to any dictator getting in.(If they haven’t already!)
    The UK Government of course also dances to the corporate tune as do all governments and the Commission also. So of course it is not perfect living here but it is better than giving up and being in a dictatorship for ever more. At least we have hope.

  11. There is now a video by labour leave, worth watching.
    Labour Leave
    More facts
    BREXIT the Movie
    Some facts
    The truth behind the secret TTIP trade deal
    The EU Commission (over which we have no say) are about to sign this with
    the USA. This will bind all those inside the EU.
    “The Death of Democracy” a public talk on the TTIP
    David Malone, Green Party
    Mr Malone points out that whoever signs any deal like this could tear it up
    at a later date. If our government were to sign then it could be rescinded
    but if the EU Commission signs we are lost as we have no power over them
    whatsoever, they cannot be removed from office as can our government
    TTIP, the most important thing occurring in the EU right now
    Corbyn, Pilger, Assange
    MEP’s not allowed access.
    TTIP is negotiated in secret between the EU Commission and the USA
    Trade Unions against the EU
    Equality Rights do not come from the EU
    Not possible to renationalise the railways whilst in the EU
    Transport union RMT is calling for a Leave vote after European assembly
    backs rail privatisation for all 28 member states.
    The EU is entering the final stages of a 15-year process to open up all
    postal services to Œcompetition¹.

    EU efforts towards privatising the postal market began in the early 1990s,
    as part of the push to create a European single market. The aim has been to
    abolish publicly-run monopolies and open them up to competition.

    Although the EU and the government have been clever enough to keep any
    evidence from the public the process follows the usual pattern. The EU tells
    the government what is to happen. The government then holds an enquiry which
    then produces a report proposing matching EU laws and hiding the fact that
    it is an EU project.

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