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Pomegranate juice maker used deceptive ads, judge rules

Pom Wonderful used insufficient evidence to back claims that its products could treat or prevent serious diseases, the chief administrative law judge at the FTC says.

May 22, 2012|By Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times
  • A federal administrative law judge upheld much of a 2010 Federal Trade Commission complaint against Pom Wonderful, the Los Angeles company owned by Lynda Resnick, above, and her husband, Stewart Resnick.
A federal administrative law judge upheld much of a 2010 Federal Trade Commission… (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)

A federal administrative judge ruled that pomegranate juice maker Pom Wonderful used deceptive advertising when it implied its products could treat or prevent serious diseases and other medical conditions.

Judge D. Michael Chappell upheld much of a 2010 Federal Trade Commission complaint against the Los Angeles company owned by Lynda and Stewart Resnick.

The judge said in his decision issued Monday that Pom used "insufficient" evidence to back its claims that Pom products "treat, prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer or erectile dysfunction."

The judge did not find all Pom ads in the original complaint to be at fault. But one cited as deceptive described Pom juice as an "antioxidant superpower," and went on to say that antioxidants guard against agents that "can cause heart disease, premature aging, Alzheimer's disease, even cancer."

Chappell, the chief administrative law judge at the FTC, ordered Pom to discontinue making "any representation" that a product "is effective in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of any disease."

Violations of the order could be subject to a fine of $16,000 per incident.

The 335-page ruling did not agree with the entire, original FTC complaint. The judge said the complaint went too far in requiring Pom to get pre-approval from the Food and Drug Administration for any claims made in future advertisements.

He ruled that pre-approval "would constitute unnecessary overreaching."

Also, the judge did not find all Pom ads challenged by the FTC to be deceptive.

David C. Vladeck, director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, issued a short statement saying that he was "pleased" the judge agreed deceptive advertising had been used.

Pom issued a statement Monday focusing on the parts of the original complaint that were discarded. It said the ruling allows the company to "share the scientific evidence that highlights the value and power inherent in pomegranates and pomegranate juice with impunity."

The judge's decision goes into effect in 30 days unless Pom formally challenges it.

"We do plan to appeal certain aspects of the ruling," Pom spokesman Corey Martin said.

The appeal would be heard by the five-member FTC. If an appeal is not successful, Pom could take the matter to a federal appeals court.

ryan.faughnder@latimes.com

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