POM Wonderful FTC Hearing Underway

In a case that many are looking to for direction with regard to future food and beverage health claims, a Federal Trade Commission action against POM Wonderful began yesterday in Los Angeles, according to an article on Bloomberg.com. The case is a testing ground for treating food and beverage health claims more like those of the pharmaceutical industry. But it is also an opportunity for companies to argue that their claims are supported by the first amendment and cannot be censored, even if they are found to be untrue.

To make companies responsible for what they claim on their labels, the FTC is changing its requirements for health claims from “competent and reliable scientific evidence” to requiring two well-controlled clinical trials in support of product claims. If the FTC were to lose the case it might inaugurate an open season for health claims, making it possible for companies to make even the wildest claims in their advertising.

Some health claims made by POM on its web site last year indicated that the product can treat prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction and heart disease, but the FTC said the studies that support these findings often lack control groups, don’t show statistically significant changes and measure the wrong indicators. POM executives may also have been aware of these shortcomings, according to the FTC, but POM will most likely point to their $35 million in research backing up their product, and 65 studies on POM products.

The FTC is looking for new grounds to go against advertisers in an industry where it is becoming increasingly difficult to market foods and beverages without a functional component.