POM Wonderful‘s pomegranate juice is delicious, but a federal judge instructed the company yesterday to shut up about its health benefits. Apparently, claims that the juice can cut heart attack risk, prostate cancer and prevent erectile dysfunction, which were questioned by the FTC two years ago, weren’t altogether accurate. But the upshot for POM (and other food companies) is that the judge didn’t agree with the FTC that they should back their claims with rigorous medical studies (just ones that aren’t clearly false).
The FTC filed a complaint against POM Wonderful in 2010, objecting to three main health claims on the following grounds:
a) Scientific studies didn’t show that POM prevented heart disease or had any heart health benefits.
b) The study POM cited for their prostate cancer claims weren’t blinded or controlled.
c) POM’s erectile dysfunction study showed that the juice wasn’t any more effective than a placebo.
Yesterday, Chief Administrative Law Judge Michael Chappell ordered POM to put a lid on all medical claims unless they were not misleading, but Chappell wasn’t 100% on board with the FTC’s complaint, which argued that the company should provide the same kinds of medical trials that pharmaceutical companies use to support their claims. He says they can provide “competent reliable scientific evidence” for the health claims on their products.
For a company who was just slapped on the wrist for flat-out lying to consumers in a federal court, POM is pretty happy. Craig Cooper, Chief Legal Officer for POM Wonderful LLC, wrote in a company statement:
While we are still analyzing the ruling, it is clear that we will be able to continue to promote the health benefits of our safe, food products without having our advertisements, marketing or public relations efforts preapproved by the FDA and without having to rely on double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies, the standard required for pharmaceuticals. We consider this not only to be a huge win for us, but for the natural food products industry.
Which seems to be like a huge “lose” for consumers, who already face enough convoluted health claims and misleading advertising in the “natural food products industry.”