POM Wonderful charged with selling snake oil

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Despite being rich in antioxidants, pomegranate juice is probably not an effective treatment for heart disease and other serious health conditions.

That's according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday against POM Wonderful LLC, which makes POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and POMx supplements, among other products made from the fruit.

The Federal Trade Commission said POM Wonderful violated trade laws by making "false and unsubstantiated claims" that its products will prevent or treat heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.

"Any consumer who sees POM Wonderful products as a silver bullet against disease has been misled," said David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Contrary to POM Wonderful's advertising, the available scientific information does not prove that POM Juice or POMx effectively treats or prevents these illnesses."

The FTC wants to make any future claims about the health benefits of pomegranate juice subject to verification by the Food and Drug Administration, according to the agency's complaint.

In a statement responding to the charges, POM Wonderful said the case is "unwarranted" and that it "fundamentally disagrees" with the allegations. The FTC, the statement said, "is wasting taxpayer resources to persecute the pomegranate."

"We do not make claims that our products act as drugs," the company said. "What we do, rather, is communicate, through advertising, the promising science relating to pomegranates."

POM Wonderful said the case goes beyond the FTC's jurisdiction by attempting to regulate a juice as a drug.

The company went on to say that the FTC is violating its "constitutional rights" to share information with the public, adding that it has filed a lawsuit against the government to "preserve these rights."

In its complaint, the FTC identified several advertisements in which POM Wonderful allegedly mislead consumers about the disease fighting powers of pomegranate juice, which the agency says were based on dubious scientific research.

Among the ads POM Wonderful ran in print publications, web sites and billboards nationwide was one claiming that POM Juice is "proven to fight for cardiovascular, prostate and erectile health." The company further claimed that the health benefits of POM products had been "backed by $25 million in medical research."

But the FTC alleges that many of the scientific studies POM Wonderful conducted were either false or did not show any of the health benefits that the company asserts in its advertising.

POM Wonderful maintained that there is a "vast body of scientific research" documenting the health properties of pomegranates. The company said it has spent $34 million over ten years to support further studies.

"We take pride in having initiated a program of modern scientific research to investigate the health benefits of this ancient and revered fruit," the company said.

POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice, which comes in a distinctive bottle shaped like an hourglass, is widely available at grocery stores nationwide. It retails for about $3.99 in a 16 oz. bottle. POMx pills and liquid extract are sold via direct mail, with a one-month supply costing approximately $30.

This was not the first time POM Wonderful has drawn the attention of federal regulators. The Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to POM Wonderful in February admonishing the company for promoting claims more suited to a drug than food products.

Matt Tupper, POM Wonderful's president, was named in the FTC complaint, along with fellow executives Stewart Resnick and Lynda Resnick. The agency also charged a POM Wonderful affiliate, Roll International, in the lawsuit.

The FTC case comes less than two weeks after POM Wonderful won a lawsuit against rival juice maker Welch's for claiming that its pomegranate juice was 100% pure.

The verdict in that case was "a clear win for consumers who are constantly bombarded by deceptively labeled products marketed by big juice companies," Tupper said in a statement at the time. "Based on their cleverly designed labels, these products appear to contain large quantities of exotic and healthy juices when in fact nearly all of the ingredients are cheap filler juices." To top of page

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