January 19, 2018

Judge Rules Some POM Wonderful Ads Are Deceptive

Administrative Law Judge D. Michael Chappell ruled on May 17, 2012 that some POM Wonderful ads are deceptive. The company’s ads claim that POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and POMx supplements can “treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.”

The Judge issued an order that POM Wonderful LLC and its parent company, Roll International Corp., could not make any claims about health benefits of their products unless they possess “competent and reliable scientific evidence” that their claim is true. This is a lower standard than that required for pharmaceutical companies, which must prove efficacy of their products through clinical trials.

The ads in question appeared in The New York Times, Prevention, Parade, and Fitness, in addition to bus stops, billboard, and labels on POM products. The FTC Act states that an ad is deceptive if it is “likely to mislead consumers, acting reasonably under the circumstances, in a material respect.”

In the ruling, the Judge stated that “the evidence demonstrates that Respondents disseminated advertisements that a significant minority of reasonable consumers would interpret to contain an implied claim.” He also stated that “the weight of the persuasive expert testimony demonstrates that there was insufficient competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the implied claims. … Therefore, such claims were false or misleading within the meaning of Section 12 of the FTC Act.”

In addition, in Summary 32 of “Conclusions of Law” in the order, Judge Chappell ruled that “the seriousness of Respondents’ violations is shown by the fact that the claims pertained to serious diseases and dysfunction of the body, including cancer, and the inability of consumers to evaluate whether Respondents’ implied disease claims were true or actually supported by cited studies.”

The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against the company in 2010. Some of the ads claims included these phrases: “You have to be on pomegranate juice. It is the one thing that will keep your PSA normal,”  “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,” and “Clinical studies prove that POM Juice prevents, reduces the risk of, and treats, erectile dysfunction.”

The FTC also wanted the company to get FDA pre-approval before making future claims about their products preventing or treating serious diseases, but the judge ruled that stipulation went too far and “would constitute unnecessary overreaching.”

Not all of the company’s ads were found to be deceptive. In addition, the Judge did not require the company to conduct clinical tests that rise to the standard of pharmaceutical drugs: double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized studies.

Finally, the Judge ruled that as long as the company “does not suggest that the product be used as a substitute for conventional medical care or treatment, then it is appropriate to favor disclosure.”

For the next five years, POM Wonderful LLC must provide the FTC, upon request, advertisements, supporting materials, tests, reports, studies, and other evidence, including consumer complaints, that contradicts the representation of facts. In addition, Roll Global will be required to provide scientific research to back up their claims for the next 20 years.

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