Pom Wonderful Pomegranate products may be loaded with antioxidants, but there's not sufficient evidence that it can treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of specific conditions such as heart disease or erectile dysfunction according to a ruling handed down by Chief Administrative Law Judge Michael Chappell.
The ruling upholds a Federal Trade Commission complaint we reported on before that charged POM Wonderful with violating federal law by making deceptive disease prevention and treatment claims.
According to Judge Chappell's decision, excerpted here, POM Wonderful's violations of federal advertising law were misleading because their claims "pertained to serious diseases and dysfunction of the body, including cancer." And "reasonable consumers" would interpret the advertisements for POM products as claims that drinking eight ounces of POM Juice daily could treat, prevent or reduce the risk of certain diseases. (Full disclosure: NPR has received support from POM Wonderful.)
But "expert testimony demonstrated that there was insufficient competent and reliable scientific evidence to support claims that POM products treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer, or erectile dysfunction, or are clinically proven to do so."
However, the news is not all bad for POM Wonderful. Judge Chappell ruled that the company did not have to seek FDA approval before marketing its products with health claims in the future. That, the judge says, "would constitute unnecessary overreaching" on the government's part. So basically, if the government objects to the marketing, it can just take the company to court after the fact.
Meanwhile, POM Wonderful is claiming victory. "FTC Administrative Law Judge Affirms that POM Wonderful May Deliver Its Scientifically Validated Health Benefit Information to Consumers" is the headline on its press release.
Here's how the POM lawyers are explaining it:
"Through its lawsuit against POM, the FTC tried to create a new, stricter industry standard (for food products), similar to that required for pharmaceuticals," explained Craig Cooper, Chief Legal Officer for POM Wonderful LLC. (In other words, pre-approval of marketing claims.) "They failed," Cooper wrote in a release.
POM says it has invested over $35 million to support scientific research of and more than 70 studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals validating the health benefits of the pomegranate and pomegranate juice.
And the company says there's another important implication to this ruling. They will not be required to conduct the kind of double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies to that are required of the pharmaceutical industry in order to make general health claims.
So what are we likely to see on the bottles of POM Wonderful in the future? Maybe more general claims such as supports prostate health —- or supports erectile health - sans any specific suggestion that the juice can prevent, treat or reduce the risk of diseases.
POM Wonderful is certainly not the only company that's come under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission for its health claims. In 2010, we reported that Kellogg, maker of Rice Krispies, had withdrawn an immunity claim. A message printed on the front of the cereal box reading "Now Helps Support Your Child's Immunity" was removed.