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FTC alleges false marketing by L.A.-based POM juice producer [Updated]

September 27, 2010 | 10:37 am

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday filed a complaint against L.A.-based pomegranate juice and supplements maker POM Wonderful and its billionaire owners, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, alleging that they make “false and unsubstantiated claims” about the health benefits of the products.

“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 FTC alleges that POM falsely markets it juice and POMx supplements as proven treatment for heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

Resnicks “When a company touts scientific research in its advertising, the research must squarely support the claims made,” Vladeck said. “Contrary to POM Wonderful’s advertising, the available scientific information does not prove that POM Juice or POMx effectively treats or prevents these illnesses.”

The FTC complaint was filed against POM, its parent  company Roll International Corp., the Resnicks and POM’s president, Matthew Tupper.

A POM spokesman said the company was working on a response to the complaint. [Updated at noon PDT: POM said in a statement that it "fundamentally disagrees with the FTC and believes that the commission’s allegations against POM are completely unwarranted."

The company said it "believes very strongly in its 1st Amendment rights to communicate the promising results of our extensive scientific research program on pomegranates. We believe the commission is acting beyond its jurisdiction, exceeding its authority, and creating a new regulatory scheme that attempts to treat our juice as a drug, which it is not."]

The FTC said its case was part of its “ongoing efforts to uncover over-hyped health claims in food advertising.”

The Resnicks over the last 30 years have built a business empire that includes POM, flower delivery service Teleflora, Fiji Water, the Neptune Pacific shipping line, and Paramount Citrus and Paramount Farms, leading growers of citrus, almonds and pistachios in the Central Valley.

They also are major benefactors of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion at LACMA, which will open on Oct. 2, was built with a $45-million gift from the couple.

The FTC also said it reached a settlement with Mark Dreher, POM Wonderful’s former head of scientific and regulatory affairs and expert endorser. Dreher “has agreed to a settlement that bars him from making any disease treatment or prevention claims in advertising for a POM Wonderful product unless the claim is not misleading and comports with FDA requirements for the claim,” the FTC said.

-- Tom Petruno

Photo: Stewart and Lynda Resnick, inside the new LACMA building built with their gift. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times