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FTC Orders POM Wonderful to Stop Making Health Claims

POM pomegranate juices
POM pomegranate juices

POM Wonderful pomegranate juice is made from the Wonderful variety of the fruit, but that doesn't make it some wonder drug.

The Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission have had enough of the company making medical claims such as that its products help reduce cholesterol, aid with erectile dysfunction, treat prostate cancer and limit the severity of colds. (In addition to POM Wonderful juice, the company sells POMx pills and liquid extract.)

On Jan. 16, the FTC upheld a judge's earlier decision against POM Wonderful, finding that the juice maker's advertisements mislead consumers about its products' health benefits, BloombergBusinessweek reports.

The FDA originally sent a warning letter to POM in February 2010 telling the company to stop promoting their juice for medical conditions. Examples cited in the letter came from a section of POM's website titled "Featured Scientific Studies" that contained health claims regarding "Prostate Cancer," "Erectile Function," "Reducing LDL cholesterol," "promote(ing) a healthy heart and prostate," "reduce(ing) the length and severity of colds," and "...shown to slow prostate tumor growth."

The POM website no longer makes such claims, instead vaguely stating: "We grow and market pomegranates and pomegranate-based products that are healthy, honest and beneficial to the well-being of mankind ...The Wonderful pomegranates provide several vitamins and minerals and is [sic] well known for unique phytochemicals and antioxidants, making Wonderful pomegranates an important part of a healthy and balanced diet."

The FTC followed up the FDA's action by filing a complaint against POM and its parent company, Roll International Corp., in September 2010. In May, a judge found that the company used deceptive advertising when it claimed its juice could treat or prevent certain illnesses, including prostate cancer. Chief Administrative Law Judge Michael Chappell issued a cease-and-desist order effective for 20 years, stating, "[POM Wonderful] shall not make any representation, in any manner, expressly or by implication, including through the use of a product name, endorsement, depiction, illustration, trademark or trade name, about the health benefits, performance or efficacy of any covered product, unless the representation is nonmisleading."

POM asked the FTC to overturn the ruling, arguing that the commission's actions would violate its First Amendment right to free speech and Fifth Amendment right to due process. Instead, the regulatory commission voted unanimously against the company's appeal request and issued a final order barring POM from claiming its juice is "effective in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease, including heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction."

(An 8 oz. serving of POM Wonderful pomegranate juice contains 150 calories and zero vitamins A and C, and no calcium or zinc. It does contain 600 milligrams of potassium, 32 grams of sugar and 1 gram of protein.)

The FTC told POM that its claims must be backed by two randomized, controlled clinical trials -- the same type of proof the FDA requires from pharmaceutical companies seeking approval for new drugs. It also prohibits the misrepresentation of any scientific evidence to support its claims.

Stubborn POM plans to appeal the ruling. "This order ignores what $35 million of peer-reviewed scientific research, centuries of traditional medicine and plain common sense have taught us: antioxidant-rich pomegranate products are good for you," the company said in a statement. It said that with the ruling, the FTC is holding food companies to the same standards as pharmaceutical makers.

If POM has a problem with that, the company shouldn't claim that its products treat medical conditions as drugs do. You can't have it both ways, POM.


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