In the fall of 2010, the Federal Trade Commission said the health claims made by POM Wonderful, a juice made from pomegranates, were “false and unsubstantiated.” The FTC said there was no scientific evidence that the health claims of the beverage, such as improving heart health and reducing the risk of prostrate cancer, were accurate.
The FTC told the makers of POM Wonderful to stop making those health claims, and yesterday the commission released its final ruling. The ban on the health claims stands. The makers intend to fight the ruling in federal court.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the ruling “could also affect food and drink makers more broadly because the agency detailed its standards for claims that a product treats a disease.”
What are the detailed standards set by this ruling? If a product says it treats a disease, there must be evidence from clinical trials. If a product makes general health claims, like being healthy or nutritious, clinical trials are unnecessary.
It seems that the makers of POM believe they met those standards, saying that the FTC’s ruling “ignores what $35 million of peer-reviewed scientific research, centuries of traditional medicine and plain common sense have taught us: antioxidant-rich pomegranate products are good for you."
I’ve written a lot about the health claims in advertising and on food packaging. I firmly believe that marketers will do everything they can to get around the rules and regulations that any agency sets. Their job is to make consumers believe they need the product that they’re hocking.
POM Wonderful is an example of marketers getting away with what they can.
In May 2012, an administrative law judge agreed with the FTC that the company's advertising was deceptive in its antidisease claims.
POM promptly ran ads selectively quoting the judge's ruling. One ad in the New York Times quoted the judge, accurately, as saying that POM Wonderful is a "natural fruit product with health-promoting characteristics."
The ad didn't quote the judge's conclusion that POM's earlier ads had "inadequate" substantiation of the health claims. The FTC staff was angered by POM's provocative ads using the judge's words, according to people at the commission. FTC lawyers filed a motion to reopen and expand the complaint against POM to include those ads, but the commissioners denied the request.
The marketers aren’t going to stop marketing. We as consumers need to educate ourselves, question every health claim made in advertising and food packaging, and not base our diets on the claims of marketers.
Related on MNN: Recipe for Pomegranate Persimmon Fruit Salad (and more yummy winter salads)