The Federal Trade Commission
has accused pomegranate juice manufacturers POM Wonderful of false advertising. The company's owners, billionaire philanthropists Lynda and Stewart Resnick of Los Angeles, who also own Fiji water and Teleflora, are big believers in the power of pomegranate juice, and have spent over $30 million funding studies to examine its healthy properties. In advertising, they've claimed that their juice can help to treat heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction. But the F.T.C. alleges:
POM Wonderful’s heart disease claims are false and unsubstantiated because many of the scientific studies conducted by POM Wonderful did not show heart disease benefit from use of its products. It alleges that the prostate cancer claims are false and unsubstantiated because, among other reasons, the study POM Wonderful relied on was neither “blinded” nor controlled. Finally, it alleges that the erectile dysfunction claims are false and unsubstantiated because the study on which the company relied did not show that POM Juice was any more effective than a placebo.
The Resnicks are pushing back hard against the complaint, and the Times reports that they're suing the commission in federal district court, claiming that the commission had "exceeded its authority and was trampling Pom’s First Amendment rights." In a statement, they said, "We stand behind the vast body of scientific research documenting the healthy properties of Wonderful variety pomegranate. Our research is unprecedented among food and beverage companies, and we take pride in having initiated a program of modern scientific research to investigate the health benefits of this ancient and revered fruit. We do not make claims that our products act as drugs. What we do, rather, is communicate, through advertising, the promising science relating to pomegranates."
The charges will be heard by an administrative law judge in Washington next May; on Monday the company settled a related false advertising case against Dr. Mark Dreher, their former vice president of science and regulatory affairs. Dr. Dreher had also appeared on TV as an expert endorsing Pom Wonderful’s products; without admitting any wrongoing, he agreed not to engage in similar acts.