POM-Pay: FTC and FDA Censor Health Benefits of Pomegranates

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The hearing in the case of the Federal Trade Commission against the Resnicks, manufacturers of the pomegranate juice, POM juice, is only weeks away. The FTC has alleged that the Resnicks made unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of POM juice and seeks to prevent the Resnicks from touting the health benefits of POM juice unless they receive FDA approval.

News flash, people. Fruit is good for you. Pomegranates are good for you. Any doctor will tell you that a healthy diet heavy in fruits and vegetables improves your health. The health benefits claimed by POM juice are in no way novel: improved heart health, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, decreased arterial plaque, reduced risk of certain cancers. The website for POM juice links to numerous studies supporting these claimed health benefits and disclaims that the conclusions are preliminary. Consumers can then decide how much weight to give to these studies.

The stakes in the case could not be higher. A ruling in the FTC's favor would be a major expansion of the FDA's regulatory authority. What's next — broccoli? As to any food, the FDA would arguably have the power to dictate how it was marketed. The compliance costs would be staggering. Want to use the old adage, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away"? Sorry, you'll need to prove its accuracy to the FDA, first. Rather than incur this extra cost, most companies will probably just forgo health messages entirely and opt for other marketing strategies. For example, POM, while the FTC case is pending, has adopted a new marketing strategy involving the sex appeal of half-dressed models rather than the scientific information that was being previously provided. Thanks to the FTC, consumers now get bawdy images in place of scientific information.

We don't need the FDA and the FTC monitoring and censoring the information that we receive about food products. You don't have to be a genius to realize that fruits and vegetables improve health; and you don't have to be a genius to realize that they don't cure cancer. Hopefully, we will be spared yet another tangle of government regulations, which would offer little if any benefit and impose heavy compliance costs.

Roberto Tepichin [send him mail] is a Boston lawyer who taught economics at Harvard College and blogs at www.DoWeNeedGov.com.

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