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FTC Suing Maker Of POM Drinks For False Health Claims

October 21, 2010

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is suing California group POM Wonderful for making “false and unsubstantiated claims” about its products.

POM said it would challenge the FTC, setting up a high-profile battle between the maker of the juice and authorities.

POM claims to help fight Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis and improve sperm quality.

“Any consumer who sees POM Wonderful products as a silver bullet against disease has been misled,” David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection, said in a statement.

POM has filed its own lawsuit against the FTC alleging interference with its free speech rights for POM, which does not publish financial results but is believed to have sales of about $100 million a year.

POM Wonderful launched a new campaign with television ads produced by French-Canadian director Francois Girard showing the sex appeal of pomegranates, even after the FTC filed its suit. 

The company makes no claim that its juice or supplements are drugs, but just nutritious food.

“Because POM products may in fact offer the promise of better health, we believe it is important to share the research results as they become available,” the company said in a statement.

“This is especially true since our products do not carry the risks associated with pharmaceutical drugs. It’s a shame that the government is unable to understand this fundamental distinction, and instead is wasting taxpayer resources to persecute the pomegranate.”

Ivan Preston, a University of Wisconsin professor emeritus of communication and specialist in truth in advertising, told AFP News that POM Wonderful appears to have overstepped the accepted bounds of advertising on the product.

“If they say in their ads, ‘backed by science,’ they are making a medical claim,” he said.

He said that in order to promote medical benefits for pomegranate juice, the makers would have to go through a rigorous testing process for clearance by the Food and Drug Administration.

The FTC said the benefits are not supported by accepted scientific standards.

According to the FTC complaint, POM executives “knew that a large, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, funded by POM Wonderful… showed no significant difference after 18 months between consumption of pomegranate juice and a control beverage in reducing carotid arterial wall thickness.”

For prostate cancer, “the evidence relied on by respondents consisted of results from an unblinded, uncontrolled study” and the scientists said it was “controversial” whether the benefits were proven.  Unblinded refers to a study where some participants were not given a placebo.  The FTC said other health claims also were unsubstantiated.

“The aim of POM’s first ever TV advertising campaign is to educate consumers in a provocative and sensual way about the intriguing history of the pomegranate,” says POM company president Matt Tupper.

“POM is proud to have explored the mythic properties of pomegranates using modern science.”

Marion Nestle, a New York University Nutritionist and author, said on her blog that the POM case shows “how easy it is to design studies to give you the answer you want.”

“POM research demonstrates that pomegranate juice has antioxidant activity and acts as an antioxidant in the body. Of course it does,” said Nestle.

“But so does every other fruit and vegetable and what this research does not do is compare the effects of pomegranate juice to those of orange juice, for example.”

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