POM Wonderful isn’t quite as wonderful as it claims, the Federal Trade Commission said Monday, after filing a complaint that challenges the company’s statements that pomegranate can prevent and treat everything from heart disease to erectile dysfunction.
The agency called the claims -- found in advertisements in print publications and on the Internet -- “false and unsubstantiated” and based on flawed medical research.
In a story this March, the Tribune named POM Wonderful as one of several products on the market that made health claims in its advertising that are permissible only for FDA-approved drugs. Yet, POM Wonderful has staked its name on the fruit’s health benefits.
According to POM Wonderful, since 1998 the company has paid $34 million to support pomegranate-related research at universities and by other scientists, yielding approximately 55 published studies.
A spokesman for POM Wonderful said the company will issue a statement later today.
The FTC is asking a judge to issue an order that would require the company to stop making claims that pomegranate products can cure, prevent or treat any disease unless the claims are first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
At the same time, Mark Dreher, POM Wonderful’s former head of scientific and regulatory affairs and an expert endorser, has agreed to settle a related case against him for the health claims he endorsed on POM products. Dreher has agreed to stop making those claims, the agency said.
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.
By 2004, the formerly shy fruit showed up as the hottest flavor for everything from candles to a sprays and was featured on “Sex in the City,” Oprah Winfrey’s O and even Time magazine.
Among the advertising claims the FTC is challenging are that the product has “super health powers,” that drinking an 8 ounce glass of POM Wonderful slows the rate of prostate cancer, that the juice can treat erectile dysfunction and that it has been proven reduce arterial plaque by 30 percent.
“Any consumer who sees POM Wonderful products as a silver bullet against disease has been misled,” David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “When a company touts scientific research in its advertising, the research must squarely support the claims made. 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 administrative complaint does not mean the company has violated the law, the FTC said. A hearing has been scheduled for eight months from now before an administrative law judge.