by Marion Nestle
May 23 2011

POM Wonderful vs. the FTC: what this is about

On May 24, an administrative law judge will deal with the matter of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) complaints that health claims made for POM Wonderful pomegranate juice are unsubstantiated by science.

To review:  last September, the FTC complained that the company was advertising its juice with unsubstantiated claims like these:

  • Clinical studies prove that POM Juice and POMx prevent, reduce the risk of, and treat heart disease, including by decreasing arterial plaque, lowering blood pressure, and improving blood flow to the heart;
  • Clinical studies prove that POM Juice and POMx prevent, reduce the risk of, and treat prostate cancer, including by prolonging prostate-specific antigen doubling time;
  • Clinical studies prove that POM Juice prevents, reduces the risk of, and treats, erectile dysfunction.

The FTC argues that these claims are false because POM Wonderful’s studies do not prove what the company claims.  The FTC particularly takes exceptions to the company’s advertisements:

If you want to follow the legalities, the FTC provides a handy summary.

According to FoodNavigator.com, this company must be supporting armies of lawyers:

POM is currently embroiled in a complex web of litigation, having itself launched legal action against the FTC alleging it had exceeded its statutory authority by establishing a two-clinical trial standard to back claims.

It has also filed actions against Coca-Cola Minute Maid, PepsiCo Tropicana and Ocean Spray alleging misleading claims about the contents of their pomegranate-containing juice products.

Separately, POM is itself accused of misleading consumers in a class action lodged in a Florida state court.

Leaving this particular company’s legal strategies aside, at issue is whether food health claims need to be backed up by science.   POM says it has the science.   The FTC says it doesn’t.   I will have more to say about that issue in subsequent posts.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see what happens at the hearing.  Stay tuned.

Comments

  • Lisa Lucas Talbot
  • May 23, 2011
  • 7:06 pm

If not armies of lawyers, at least one group devoted to Roll-related issues: From the Roll Law Group’s website: “Roll Law Group P.C. (“RLG”) primarily provides legal services to Roll Global LLC and its affiliated portfolio of operating companies, including FIJI Water Company, Neptune Shipping Company, Paramount Citrus LLC, Paramount Farming Company, Paramount Farms International LLC, Pom Wonderful LLC, Suterra LLC and Teleflora LLC. . . . In addition, RLG provides legal services for, and on behalf of, a variety of trusts, charitable organizations, non-profit associations and agricultural cooperative associations that have business relationships with Roll and its affiliates.” More info is at http://www.rolllawgroup.com/aboutus.php

  • chuck
  • May 23, 2011
  • 7:40 pm

i bet POM’s supporting evidence is just as strong as Ancel Keys’ evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease. yet our government is still allowed to push that recommendation while our country keeps getting sicker.

I cannot vouch for POM yet I wish the company being singled out was one with far worse for us ingredients and a more inflated claim. POM is certainly not alone in claims that are stretching it. A cold cereal with 4 food dyes and 3 types of sugar tell my kids it’s “whole grain”?

  • Anthro
  • May 24, 2011
  • 7:03 am

@Chuck

Not sure saturated fat “causes” heart disease, but the evidence is clear that it can contribute to it by clogging arteries. Ancel Keys is not alone in this view.

  • chuck
  • May 24, 2011
  • 7:25 am

@anthro

actually there really isn’t any solid evidence that saturated fats clog arteries. despite is eating less saturated fat over the last 30 years, heart disease rates continue to climb.

http://escapetheherdblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/saturated-fat-is-not-enemy.html

I would like to see the results of the clinical studies. Are they available to the public?

  • Subvert
  • May 24, 2011
  • 9:49 am

I guess I might feel differently if I thought that the POM company actually gave two squirts about helping people stay healthy. Instead they use their ‘science’ to promote sales of more processed juice and keep competitors at bay.

Their ‘science’ helps distract from the bigger problem with our “modern technology’s gonna save us!” culture, which buys into the false hope that further consumption of new and better expensive quick fixes will take us all to a better place.

  • Lee Poe
  • May 24, 2011
  • 10:30 am

POM Wonderful is a “vanity business,” part of the empire of multi-billionaire Stewart Resnick, who decided his exceptionally imperial wife Lynda needed something to do as it is much less expensive than divorce. (California is a community property state.)

Yes, folks, the -entire- pomegranate craze that’s swept up the country in all these silly pseudo-science claims is simply due to the fact a billionaire’s wife was bored. It’s all a scam backed by huge amounts of cash and, as already noted, an entire law firm. All those companies listed on Roll’s website? All owned by Lynda and Stewart Resnick.

  • Andy
  • May 24, 2011
  • 2:20 pm

From the results section of the article in Clinical Cancer Research
http://clincancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/12/13/4018.full?sid=697aec54-8bcf-41a8-a65a-7f23d3881309

We report the first clinical trial of pomegranate juice in patients with recurrent prostate cancer. This study shows statistically significant effects on PSADT coupled with corresponding effects on prostate cancer in vitro cell growth and apoptosis. These proposed benefits, however, are in assays that are as yet unvalidated, and further research is needed to prove the validity of these tests and to determine whether improvements in such biomarkers (including PSADT) are likely to serve as surrogates for clinical benefit.

Let me know when the results of a double blind test are available.

  • Jessica
  • May 24, 2011
  • 3:43 pm

I would prefer if food companies were not allowed to make health claims at all, but I know that if they were not we would not have all of these health studies being done. I’m glad the health studies are being done, but I’m not glad they’re being done for the wrong reasons – to sell more crap to people who don’t know any better.

  • Joe
  • May 24, 2011
  • 4:27 pm

I have followed the posts and discussions here for well over a year. Although I disagree with the viewpoint in most cases I enjoy the back and forth. In that time I have been amazed at one prevailing point made. It seems to be the consensus that there are a great many people in our country/world who eat things and drink things simply because they don’t know any better.

That is very condescending yet typical of the leftist idelolgy prevalent among health elitists that post here (as well as many that I know from my work). Maybe these unwashed massess do know better and choose to eat and drink whatever they want anyway.

Maybe those who are really paying attention see that on the whole we are a nation of healthy people. We are far and away healthier than we were 100 years ago. We live longer more productive lives now than at any time in the history of the world.

I know that my point of view is unpopular yet it is vindicated by facts. Furthermore I know that to admit that it is true takes away the need for much of what passes for public health.

  • Anthro
  • May 24, 2011
  • 6:48 pm

@chuck

Actually, heart disease in this country has decreased dramatically in recent decades, although it remains a leading cause of death.

http://epirev.oxfordjournals.org/content/22/1/7.full.pdf

Also, regarding blood cholesterol and saturated fat:

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hbc/HBC_Summary.html

  • Anthro
  • May 24, 2011
  • 7:10 pm

@Joe

I think you are the one who is making a lot of assumptions.

People who care about public health are “elitist”. Really? Please elaborate.

These “elitists” are also “leftists”. Really? If true, is that a bad thing?Please define “leftist”. I don’t see how promoting public health is a right/left issue to begin with, but perhaps you can explain further?

Although we live longer than ever, we are not really healthy as a population. We are plagued by heart disease, diabetes and other obesity-related health problems which strain our health care system and will get much worse in the future as the childhood obesity epidemic group reaches middle age.

Just which “facts” would you cite to “vindicate” your” unpopular views”?

I would not dispute that there are people who know better, but “choose” to eat badly anyway, but part of the public health message is to try to change behavior. There are also large groups of people who do not know much about nutrition or do not have access to healthy food.

How is it condescending to try to educate people about the dangers of obesity and how to prevent it?

You are certainly entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. I would encourage you to move beyond this blog and read Ms. Nestle’s books.

  • Suzanne
  • May 25, 2011
  • 7:01 pm

chuck -

I subscribe to a similar eating plan as I suspect you do. Since drastically eliminating carbohydrates as a majority of my diet (with the exception of non-starchy vegetables, seeds, limited nuts and limited high fiber fruits), I’ve seen my HDL rise and LDL decrease, and my cholesterol ratios improve. Saturated fats become dangerous to favorable Cholesterol ratios in conjunction with a high carbohydrate diet, especially simple carbohydrates.

The success I’ve had maintaining my blood glucose levels and a significant weight loss are other benefits. The low fat agenda simply isn’t working.

  • Joe
  • May 26, 2011
  • 1:01 pm

Anthro you are making my case for me in your comment to Chuck “Actually, heart disease in this country has decreased dramatically in recent decades, although it remains a leading cause of death” so thanks. We are healthier as a nation in many areas. Something is always going to be the leading cause of illness and death.

My point of view and its associated facts come from many years in the practice of nutrition in both clinical and community settings. Most of the patients and clients I have ever met (99/100) have a fair working knowledge of the basics of nutrition and how to choose a healthy manner of eating. Whether they act on that knowledge is outside of my control. So my point of view is driven by those experiences.

Therefore if my observation is true then it comes across as talking down to the public saying that most just don’t know what to do in matters of health as related to nutrition.

Moreover it does come across as left leaning to assume that everyone should want the same thing and should therefore follow the same nutrition prescription for health. Not everyone desires the same thing thus the freedom to choose (even health). It is objectively observable that not every person is affected in the same way by the foods that they eat. That is perhaps why the once inextricable link between heart disease and saturated fat has begun to unravel lately because clearly there are some who don’t lots of saturated fat but still suffer with heart disease.

All I ask is that the discussion continue and that everyone will be willing to examine their own deeply held truths. It was once laudable to question authority, is that still the case?

  • Robert L Holman
  • May 24, 2012
  • 10:14 am

We dearly want to believe in something that makes it easy to obtain good health or maintain good health.
Pom is just another player in the long history of snake-oil salesmen that have come and gone in this country for centuries.
If pomegranate juice did what they claim, than a pharmaceutical company would have payed the Resnicks plenty and saved them the cost of their in-house lawyers. This is quackery in its purest form.

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