POM Wonderful, a manufacturer of pomegranate juice and supplements, is pushing back against a recent ruling that found the company violated federal law by making deceptive disease prevention and treatment claims.
Boldly asserting its right to legally market the general health benefits of its products, the company launched a new campaign in major newspapers and online, urging consumers to “be the judge.” One of the ads shows a bottle of POM with a cartoon thought bubble that reads, “I’m off to save prostates!”
The ads pulled selected quotes from the 345-page decision, such as “Natural fruit product with health promoting characteristics. –FTC Judge.”
“The FTC’s objective was to shut down all of POM’s health benefit advertising,” a POM press release said. “In these efforts, the FTC failed.”
The FTC isn’t commenting on POM’s new advertising campaign “because one or both parties are likely to appeal certain aspects of the judge’s ruling,” Mary Engle, the FTC’s Director of the Division of Advertising Practices said in a statement.
Earlier this week, an administrative law judge upheld a Federal Trade Commission complaint filed in 2010 which alleged that some of POM’s marketing misleadingly claimed the products would treat, prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.
In the decision, Chief Administrative Law Judge Michael Chappell barred POM from referring to the “health benefits, performance or efficacy” of the POM products unless the company could show the claims were supported by solid scientific evidence. The violation of federal advertising laws was significant, Chappell said, because the claims were related to serious disease, including cancer. Also, consumers were unable to evaluate whether the ads were true or supported by clinical trials.
For example, Chappell ruled that reasonable consumers would interpret the ads as claiming that drinking eight ounces of POM Juice daily, taking one POMx pill and/or taking one teaspoon of POMx Liquid daily is clinically proven to treat, prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease prostate cancer and or erectile dysfunction. In fact, researchers haven’t yet shown this to be true.
POM complained that the FTC press release oversimplified the ruling, “which found a fraction of POM’s advertisements misleading. The FTC failed to mention that out of 600 print and outdoor advertisements, the court found less than 2 percent of those misleading,” according to a Pom release. POM said it’s appealing those findings.
In FTC vs. POM Wonderful: the latest round, New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle pointed out that Pom has invested more than $35 million in research to prove that pomegranate juice has health benefits. It has sponsored about 100 studies at 44 different institutions. At least 70 of those studies were published in peer reviewed journals.
“It is not difficult to design research studies to give sponsors the answer they want and to make sure they are conducted well,” she wrote. “POM is getting the best research that money can buy.”
Nestle also compared the quotes used in the new ads with the judge’s decision; she determined they were taken out of context.
In one example:
The ad says: Competent and reliable scientific evidence shows that pomegranate juice provides a benefit to promoting erectile health and erectile function (page 198 of the decision).
Nestle found this on page 198. It was followed immediately by:
"There is insufficient competent and reliable scientific evidence to show that pomegranate juice prevents or reduces the risk of erectile dysfunction or has been clinically proven to do so…There is insufficient competent and reliable scientific evidence to show that pomegranate juice treats erectile dysfunction in a clinical sense or has been clinically proven to do so."
Her bottom line? Pomegranate juice is juice. Healthy and tasty, but like any juice, not likely to prevent heart disease or prostate problems on its own. “Health claims are about marketing, not health,” she wrote.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun