Claims that its prod­ucts treat or pre­vent dis­eases draw com­plaint by FTC.

Los Angeles Times - - Business - P.J. Huff­s­tut­ter re­port­ing from los an­ge­les An­drew Za­jac re­port­ing from washington

The Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion has filed a com­plaint against Los An­ge­les­based pome­gran­ate juice maker Pom Won­der­ful and its bil­lion­aire own­ers, Lynda and Ste­wart Res­nick, al­leg­ing that they vi­o­lated fed­eral law by mak­ing “false and un­sub­stan­ti­ated claims” about the health ben­e­fits of their prod­ucts.

Since its launch in 2002, the gar­net-red juice in the curvy lit­tle bot­tle gave way to amar­ket­ing craze of fla­vored fruit teas, mar­ti­nis and salad dress­ings — a culi­nary boom bol­stered by Pom’s prod­ucts ad­ver­tised as help­ing to treat con­di­tions in­clud­ing heart dis­ease, prostate can­cer and erec­tile dys­func­tion. The com­pany, ac­cord­ing to its web­site, has spent more than $34 mil­lion to back pome­gran­ate-re­lated sci­en­tific re­search.

In a com­plaint filed Mon­day, how­ever, the com­mis­sion was skep­ti­cal. It ques­tioned the sci­en­tific meth­ods used in the stud­ies and al­leged they did not find ev­i­dence show­ing the prod­ucts to be ef­fec­tive against cer­tain dis­eases.

“Any con­sumer who sees Pom Won­der­ful prod­ucts as a sil­ver bul­let against dis­ease has been misled,” David Vladeck, di­rec­tor of the FTC’s Bureau of Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion, said in a state­ment.

The com­plaint — which also named Pom’s par­ent com­pany, Roll In­ter­na­tional


Corp., and com­pany Pres­i­dent Matthew Tup­per — marks the lat­est salvo in an on­go­ing cam­paign by the fed­eral agency to un­cover false health claims in food ad­ver­tis­ing.

In re­cent months, the com­mis­sion forced Nes­tle to halt an ad cam­paign for a drink called Boost Kid Es­sen­tials that claimed it would keep chil­dren from get­ting sick and missing school. It also re­quired Kel­logg Co. to stop mak­ing claims that nu­tri­ents in its Rice Krispies ce­real im­proved kids’ im­mu­nity and that its Frosted Mini-Wheats ce­real was “clin­i­cally shown to im­prove kids’ at­ten­tive­ness by nearly 20%.”

With Pom, the FTC cited a num­ber of ad­ver­tise­ments as be­ing mis­lead­ing on its web­sites, in na­tional print out­lets and else­where. The com­mis­sion also pointed to Lynda Res­nick, the driver be­hind the com­pany’s mar­ket­ing jug­ger­naut, and raised con­cerns over com­ments she made dur­ing me­dia in­ter­views.

On “The Martha Ste­wart Show,” Res­nick said Pom was “the magic elixir of our age and of all ages, and we know that it helps cir­cu­la­tion, it helps Alzheimer’s, it helps all sorts of things in the body.” She re­port­edly told a Newsweek re­porter, “It’s also 40% as ef­fec­tive as Vi­a­gra.”

In a state­ment re­leased Mon­day, Pom Won­der­ful said that the FTC’s al­le­ga­tions were “com­pletely un­war­ranted” and that the com­pany had a con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected right “to com­mu­ni­cate the promis­ing re­sults of our ex­ten­sive sci­en­tific re­search pro­gram on pomegranates.”

The Res­nicks could not be reached for com­ment.

The Bev­erly Hills cou­ple have built an agribusi­ness em­pire over the last three decades that in­cludes Fiji Wa­ter; Tele­flora, the nation’s biggest flower-de­liv­ery ser­vice; Para­mount Farm­ing Co., the world’s largest sup­plier of al­monds and pis­ta­chios, in Cal­i­for­nia’s Cen­tral Val­ley; and Para­mount Cit­rus, the lead­ing pro­ducer of fresh cit­rus in the U.S.

While the Res­nicks have been lauded for a re­cent $45mil­lion do­na­tion to the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art, they have gar­nered heavy crit­i­cism for the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences of their Fiji Wa­ter op­er­a­tions and for their role in an un­der­ground wa­ter stor­age project in Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia that the state had al­ready spent $75 mil­lion to de­velop.

Mon­day’s com­plaint also un­der­scores a months-long bat­tle that has been brew­ing among the Res­nicks, Pom and two fed­eral reg­u­la­tory agen­cies.

In Fe­bru­ary, the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion sent Pom a warn­ing let­ter. By mak­ing spe­cific claims that the juice treated mal­adies con­nected to heart, prostate and erec­tile func­tion, the com­pany was in ef­fect sell­ing a drug, which there­fore was sub­ject to clin­i­cal tri­als and other test­ing, the let­ter said.

And two weeks ago, Pom Won­der­ful sued the FTC, ac­cus­ing the com­mis­sion of over­step­ping its author­ity. The com­plaint al­leged that the FTC was im­pos­ing a new, un­fair stan­dard on food and sup­ple­ment pro­duc­ers by re­quir­ing them to get FDA ap­proval for claims in­volv­ing ef­fec­tive­ness in treat­ing dis­ease.

The FTC dis­puted Pom’s al­le­ga­tions. An FDA spokes­woman said the agency’s case against Pom Won­der­ful re­mained open.

Matt Rourke

TOUTED: Pom prod­ucts are ad­ver­tised as help­ful in dis­ease pre­ven­tion.

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