Years of legal language will be reduced to two 15-minute statements as an appeals court hears lawyers for Pom Wonderful and the Federal Trade Commission describe advertising claims the government contends are illegal.
Disease prevention claims by Pom Wonderful’s owners Stewart and Lynda Resnick violate federal law, according to the FTC and could mislead consumers into stopping prescribed medical treatments for heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction, according to court documents filed by the FTC.
A panel of three federal judges is scheduled to hear 15-minute arguments from both sides May 2. The hearing follows years of legal battling between the federal government and the Resnicks, who own Roll International Corp., the parent company of Wonderful, Paramount Citrus, Wonderful Pistachios and other companies.
The case began with a February 2010 warning from the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA told the Pom Wonderful that claims on labels and websites related to the pomegranate juice, POMx supplements and POMx Liquid meant the products are drugs as defined by federal law. The FDA ordered them to change the information.
In September 2010 the FTC filed a complaint against the Resnicks and other corporate officers at Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful, saying the company’s labeling, marketing and advertising related to health claims were deceptive and unsubstantiated. The FTC ordered Pom Wonderful to stop making the disease prevention and treatment claims unless it could produce scientific evidence.
“When a company touts scientific research in its advertising, the research must squarely support the claims made. Contrary to POM Wonderful’s advertising, the available scientific information does not prove that POM Juice or POMx effectively treats or prevents these illnesses,” David Vladeck, director of FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said when the FTC filed the complaint.
The Resnicks maintain in court documents that they have paid more than $35 million for research that proves the claims. The FTC contends that some of that research is inconclusive and some proves the Pom Wonderful products are no more effective than placebos.
A marketing campaign about the health benefits of the Pom Wonderful products includes interviews on the products’ websites with Stewart and Lynda Resnick. The couple contends they have not given health advice or made disease prevention claims.
One video described in FTC’s complaint shows an interviewer asking Lynda Resnick if he should take vitamins. She replies that she doesn’t know his family history and asks the interviewer about his father, who it turns out “had a bout of prostate cancer,” according to the text of the video in the FTC’s complaint.
“You have to be on pomegranate juice. You have a 50% chance of getting it (prostate cancer),” Lynda Resnick tells the interviewer according to the FTC complaint. “It is the one thing that will keep your PSA (prostate specific antigen) normal. You have to drink pomegranate juice. There is nothing else we know of that will keep your PSA in check. Ask any urologist …”
In January 2013 the FTC issued a 54-page opinion upholding the complaint against Pom Wonderful and the Resnicks. The Resnicks appealed that opinion and it has taken more than a year for the case to reach the hearing stage, set for May 2.
In addition to the FTC’s complaint, a litany of consumer cases claiming the labels and ads were misleading have been filed in state and federal courts across the country. Many of the cases were combined into a single case in U.S. District Court in California under Judge Dean Pregerson.
Class-action status for the combined cases was granted in September 2012, with the class defined as anyone who had purchased any of the Pom Wonderful products in question from Oct. 2005 to September 2010.
However, in January this year, Pregerson decertified the class, meaning consumers will have to individually pursue legal action against the Resnicks and their company.