(CBS/AP) A federal administrative judge ruled Monday that POM Wonderful deceptively advertised its pomegranate products when the company said the juices could treat, prevent or reduce the risk of heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.
Chief Administrative Law Judge Michael Chappell upheld an earlier complaint from the Federal Trade Commission that was filed in September 2010 against POM and its parent company, Los-Angeles-based Roll International Corp. The company's health claims, such as "The Antioxidant Superpower", are a hallmark of its advertising and are seen as working to convince consumers that they are worth a premium price.
In the FTC's original complaint, the agency alleged that the POM respondents' heart disease claims were false and unsubstantiated because many of the scientific studies did not show benefits from using POM products for treating or preventing heart disease. It alleged that the prostate cancer claims were false and unsubstantiated because, among other reasons, the study the POM respondents relied on was neither "blinded" nor controlled. Finally, the FTC alleged that the erectile dysfunction claims were false and unsubstantiated because the study on which the company relied did not show that POM Juice was any more effective than a placebo
Jude Chappell ordered POM to halt all claims of health benefits, performance and efficacy for its beverage unless the representation is not misleading. Expert witnesses testified in court that scientific evidence does not support claims made in company advertising, which appeared in national newspapers, magazines and online.
POM Wonderful is credited with having started the pomegranate craze that has spread to everything from smoothies to salad dressings.
Chappell did not completely agree with FTC's complaint, rejecting an argument that the company should have to provide evidence from rigorous medical trials - the same standard required of pharmaceutical companies. Instead, the judge said the company could provide "competent reliable scientific evidence."
Los Angeles-based POM Wonderful touted that ruling as a victory in a company statement. "We consider this not only to be a huge win for us, but for the natural food products industry," Craig Cooper, Chief Legal Officer for POM Wonderful LLC, said in a company statement.
"We have always believed in the power of the pomegranate and are pleased that we will be able to continue to showcase the fantastic health benefits inherent in this wonderful fruit," added, Stewart A. Resnick, President of Roll Global.
The judge's ruling becomes final after 30 days, unless the company appeals. POM said it is "continuing to review the ruling," but did not indicate plans to appeal. In addition to POM Wonderful juice, the company sells POMx pills and liquid extract.
Recently "deceptive" health advertisements were spotlighted by an FTC ruling on Skechers Shape-ups and the company's other toning shoes. The FTC ordered Skechers to pay $40 million over health claims about weight loss, cardiovascular health and muscle building based on questionable studies,