The maker of a popular brand of pomegranate juice products cannot advertise that its drinks treat or prevent heath disease or other illnesses without proof. The company lost most of its appeal, which means that an earlier ruling by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about the advertising has been upheld.
The FTC found that the advertising for POM Wonderful was misleading. The ads made claims that the products could treat or reduce the risk of diseases including heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction. POM Wonderful LLC originally was ordered by the FTC to not run any ads that make health benefits for its products unless the ads are backed by at least two randomized and controlled human clinical trials.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit largely upheld a 2010 order by the FTC. In its ruling, the court said: "Many of those ads mischaracterized the scientific evidence concerning the health benefits of POM's products with regard to those diseases. The FTC Act proscribes - and the First Amendment does not protect - deceptive and misleading advertisements."
The court stopped short of upholding the FTC's requirement for two human clinical trials, but affirmed a requirement for one trial. There was no justification for requiring more than one trial and the resources needed to create and conduct two trials would be considerable, the ruling stated.
FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez called the decision "a victory for consumers. It is in keeping with established law that advertisers who market products for serious health conditions must have rigorous science to back up those claims."
A spokesperson for POM Wonderful said, "We are grateful that the court substantially reduced the requirement that the FTC tried to enforce on us to conduct multiple double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. We're proud of the $35 million of peer-reviewed scientific research we have done about pomegranates and pomegranate juice."
The advertisements at issue were discontinued in 2005.