FTC Charges POM Wonderful With Making False Health Claims About Products
By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD
Sept. 28, 2010 -- The Federal Trade Commission has charged Los Angeles-based POM Wonderful with over-hyping its products by making false and unscientific claims that they can prevent or be used to treat disorders ranging from erectile dysfunction to prostate cancer and heart disease.
The FTC issued an administrative complaint charging the makers of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and POMx supplements with making misleading claims about its products, thus violating federal law.
“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, says in a news release. “When a company touts scientific research in its advertising, the research must squarely support the claims made. Contrary to POM Wonderful's advertising, the available scientific information does not prove that POM Juice or POMx effectively treats or prevents these illnesses.”
POM Wonderful says in a statement that it “fundamentally disagrees” with the FTC, claiming the federal agency's allegations are “completely unwarranted.”
“We do not make claims that our products act as drugs,” the company's statement says. “What we do, rather, is communicate, through advertising, the promising science relating to pomegranates. Consumers and their health providers have a right to know about this research and its results.”
But the FTC says the company, its sister corporation Roll International Corp., and its principals have repeatedly “over-hyped” products in a series of advertisements that have appeared in publications and web sites, ranging from The New York Times to Parade and Fitness magazines. False claims also have appeared at bus stops and on billboards, product tags, and in newsletters to customers, the FTC says.
POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice is widely available in grocery stores across the nation, the FTC complaint says, with a 16-ounce bottle retailing for $3.99. Liquid extract and pills are sold via direct mail.
The FTC says that:
- POM Wonderful's claims about fighting heart disease are false and unsubstantiated because many of the scientific studies the company cites showed no heart disease benefit.
- A study purporting to show POM's products prevent or can be used to treat prostate cancer was not conducted according to accepted scientific methods.
- Research cited by POM that its products help people with erectile dysfunction was based on a study that showed that pomegranate juice was no more effective than placebo.
The FTC says POM Wonderful should stop advertising until it can show with “reliable scientific evidence” that its product claims are valid.
The FTC statement says that in a related case, Mark Dreher, POM Wonderful's former head of scientific and regulatory affairs and expert endorser, has agreed to stop making any disease treatment or prevention claims for a POM Wonderful product unless it first “comports” with requirements set forth by the FDA.
The FTC says administrative complaints are issued when it believes that law has been violated.
POM says it stands “behind the vast body of scientific research documenting the healthy properties” of its pomegranate products. It claims it has spent more than $34 million on scientific research on pomegranates, much of which has been published in peer-reviewed journals.
The company charges that the FTC has violated POM's constitutional rights “to share useful and important” information with the public. It says it has filed suit in federal court “to preserve these rights” in an attempt to have the FTC's advertising standards declared invalid.
POM also says the FTC is wrongfully treating pomegranate juice as a drug, even though the products “do not carry the risks associated with pharmaceutical drugs.”
The FTC lacks statutory authority to levy fines for violations of its regulations, but it can order businesses to stop making false advertising claims.
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SOURCES: News release, Federal Trade Commission.News release, POM Wonderful.
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