FTC and FDA to POM: You’re Not So Wonderful

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Pomegranates may be full of healthful antioxidants, but there’s no evidence that POM Wonderful’s pomegranate products prevent heart disease, prostate cancer or erectile dysfunction, according to the U.S. government.

In February, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent POM Wonderful a warning letter about the health claims the company makes online about its products, which include pomegranate juice and supplements. The FDA found that POM Wonderful — which claimed, for instance, that its 100% pomegranate juice was shown to reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk prostate cancer in scientific studies — used marketing language that is permissible only for FDA-approved drugs and therefore violates the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. (More on Time.com: The ‘Other’ Salt: 5 Foods Rich in Potassium)

The FDA asked the company to bring its marketing and labeling materials in line with government laws and regulations, but POM Wonderful continues to overstate the health properties of its products and mislead the public, the government says.

Today the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) got in on the action and filed a complaint against the company for its printed health claims about its products: “30% Decrease in Arterial Plaque” and “Promotes Healthy Blood Vessels”? “False and unsubstantiated,” says the FTC.

POM Wonderful, which launched in 2002, was earning $165 million in revenue as of 2007. All of the pomegranates used by the company are grown in California’s Central Valley, and the husband-and-wife team who run the business export their fruit to 55 countries. According to the Chicago Tribune: “The labor-intensive and messy pomegranate was stuck on the sidelines of the American fruit market until 2002 when Beverly Hills billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick planted enough of the fruit to quadruple the market, simultaneously introducing POM Wonderful juice to consumers.” (More on Time.com: 6 Genetically Modified Foods That Changed the World)

The Tribune also reports that POM Wonderful has spent $34 million to support pomegranate-related health research, which has produced 55 studies since 1998. The FTC dismissed the results of several of those studies (including one that found POM Wonderful juice was 40% as effective as Viagra at preventing erectile dysfunction), alleging that the studies were false or failed to show the results the company claimed.

“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, in a statement. “When a company touts scientific research in its advertising, the research must squarely support the claims made.”

In its own statement responding to the FTC complaint, CNNMoney.com reports, “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.'” Further:

“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.

If POM Wonderful wishes to continue making its health claims, the FTC recommends the company apply for FDA approval of its products and submit its data for review.

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