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POM Wonderful, U.S. regulator duke it out over health claims

Is POM Wonderful a “superpower” product that can help you “cheat death,” or is it just a juice posing deceptively as a miracle elixir? That’s the question at the heart of a dispute in the U.S. between the Federal Trade Commission and POM Wonderful LLC.

Matt Rourke/Associated Press/Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Is POM Wonderful a "superpower" product that can help you "cheat death," or is it just a juice posing deceptively as a miracle elixir?

That's the question at the heart of a dispute in the U.S. between the Federal Trade Commission and POM Wonderful LLC. POM has come under fire there for its advertising, which includes claims that its juice and pill supplements can treat or prevent heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.

The FTC ruled this week that POM's claims about these health benefits were unsubstantiated and violated the FTC Act.

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Now, POM has responded with a new campaign fighting the FTC decision, including a website, pomtruth.com, which invites consumers to "be the judge" of whether their ads are deceptive, as the FTC found.

The website claims that "out of 600 print and outdoor ads, the judge found less than 2 per cent misleading … and we're fighting for those other 2 per cent."

Its ads include slogans such as "forever young," "life preserver," and "death defying."

This week, an administrative law judge for the FTC upheld a 2010 complaint, and ruled that the company "violated federal law by making deceptive claims in some advertisements." The ruling found that consumers seeing the ads would reasonably assume the products are clinically proven to lower the risk of certain diseases. According to expert testimony in the case, scientific evidence for these claims was insufficient.

The FTC initially wanted to impose a ban on health claims in POM's advertising, requiring pre-approval from the Food and Drug Administration, but Judge Michael Chappell ruled this "would constitute unnecessary overreaching." The judge ordered instead that POM must have on hand "competent and reliable scientific evidence" for claims about health benefits or disease prevention and treatment, and will monitor POM to make sure it complies.

"Through its lawsuit against POM, the FTC tried to create a new, stricter industry standard, similar to that required for pharmaceuticals, for marketing the health benefits inherent in safe food and natural food-based products. They failed," Craig Cooper, chief legal officer for POM Wonderful LLC said in a statement this week. "… We consider this not only to be a huge win for us, but for the natural food products industry."

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