POM Wonderful Health Claims: Not So Wonderful

The folks behind POM Wonderful may be wishing they hadn’t appealed a 2012 ruling against deceptive health claims for their product. The Federal Trade Commission recently issued a final ruling, denied their appeal, and imposed a stricter standard than the original ruling. Ouch!

In 2010 the Federal Trade Commission issued a complaint to POM Wonderful about health claims and other deceptive statements made for its pomegranate juice and dietary supplement products. FTC chief administrative law judge D. Michael Chappell ruled last year on the complaint that POM Wonderful engaged in deceptive advertising, but the cease and desist order barring POM from making misleading claims for the next 20 years was appealed by the company.

The Commission in this final order banned POM from making any claims that a food, drug, or dietary supplement is “effective in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of any disease.” Further, and of significant concern to other companies in the dietary supplements industry, the FTC stated that any health claims must be supported by two randomized, well-controlled, human clinical trials. This final order stipulates that the valid scientific evidence must be conducted by persons qualified by training and experience to conduct such studies, and that results must be based on valid end points with statistically significant results.

In the initial ruling by the FTC, Judge Chappell stated that while competent and reliable scientific evidence is always needed to back claims, there was no comprehensive rule that this evidence needed to take the form of two randomized controlled trials. The current FTC Commission overturned that opinion with the requirement that product claims be substantiated by two randomized, blinded, clinical trials. This ruling will make it more difficult for dietary supplement manufacturers to meet the requirements in FTC orders, and will reduce the role of scientific experts suggesting the appropriate manner to substantiate health claims.

The FTC Commission also found POM Wonderful guilty of a larger number of false claims compared to the number of false claims Judge Chappell’s ruling originally found. The Commission noted that POM made deceptive claims in 34 advertisements and promotional materials, while the original decision found POM guilty on 19 false or deceptive claims. POM has 60 days to decide whether it will further petition a review of the Commission’s final order from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Click here to read the Nutritional Outlook article on the current FTC ruling, and click here to read the June 2012 Nutritional Outlook editorial on the original ruling against POM.

Pomegranate image © Anton Croos / Wikimedia