POM Juice Claims Barred by the Federal Trade Commission

Federal regulators just released a final ruling banning POM Wonderful LLC from running ads with misleading claims about the firm’s pomegranate juice.

One ad stated that POM’s pomegranate juice could “Cheat death” as well as other misleading claims about the product’s benefits, said the Wall Street Journal. The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) has been clashing with POM Wonderful since 2010.

The agency’s decision may likely impact food and beverage manufacturers due to the standards for claims that a product treats a disease, according to what the agency detailed. In fact, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) stated that POM’s claims must be backed by two separate, randomized, controlled clinical trials, which is the same as what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires when approving new drugs, the Journal pointed out.

POM is owned by Los Angeles billionaire and philanthropist couple, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, who say they don’t find the decision to be final and plan on continuing their fight. “POM Wonderful categorically rejects the FTC’s assertion that our advertisements made any misleading disease treatment or other health claims,” the company stated. “This order ignores what $35 million of peer-reviewed scientific research, centuries of traditional medicine and plain common sense have taught us: antioxidant-rich pomegranate products are good for you,” the firm added. POM Wonderful said it would appeal the agency’s ruling in federal court, the Journal said.

The Resnicks also own bottled water company, Fiji Water and Teleflora, the well-known flower deliverer, said the Journal previously. Resnick charities include the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, wrote the Journal, noting that the museum recently opened the $45 million Resnick Pavilion with a tony guest list that included the actor Tom Hanks, reality celebrity star Kim Kardashian, and the singer Christina Aguilera.

Meanwhile, in the 5-0 ruling, the FTC’s commissioners barred POM Wonderful from making assertions that the juice is “effective in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease, including heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction, unless the claim is supported by two randomized, well-controlled, human clinical trials.” POM argued that the FTC was “taking the unprecedented step of holding food companies like POM Wonderful to the same standards as pharmaceuticals,” according to the Journal.

The Obama administration has taken a forceful stance regarding the health claims that food producers make. In 2009, the FDA issued a warning to the maker of Cheerios saying that it should not claim the product helps lowers cholesterol levels, said the Journal. General Mills Inc. said it would make changes to the label. Meanwhile, in 2010, the FTC sued POM to stop running its ads. In response, said the Journal, POM and its owners accused the agency of attempting to “persecute the pomegranate.”

While companies such as Nestle© SA and Kellogg Co. have amended their claims following agency warnings, POM refused, recently filing a lawsuit against the FTC claiming the agency’s prescreening of its ads is prior restraint, violating its First Amendment free-speech rights, said the Journal, previously, noting that Nestle agreed to this screening by the FDA when settling with the FTC.

An administrative law judge decided for the agency in 2012 that POM’s marketing was false in its anti-disease claims. POM then ran ads that selectively quoted the judge’s ruling. For instance an ad in The New York Times stated that POM Wonderful “is a “natural fruit product with health-promoting characteristics.” The ad neglected to include the judge’s conclusion that POM’s prior ads contained “inadequate” support of health claims. This, unsurprisingly, angered the FTC, said Commission staff

Most recently, we wrote that the FDA sent warning letters to 17 food makers, advising them to correct misleading label claims. Among the foods cited was POM pomegranate juice. In all, 22 food items were cited for violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. That action followed an October 2009 statement by Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret Hamburg, M.D., encouraging companies to review product labeling to ensure compliance with FDA regulations, and that statements be truthful and not misleading.

Misleading food labels are not only illegal, they have had a hand in the growing problem of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, among other problems, in the United States due to false claims and confusing nutritional information.

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