The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has upheld an order from the Federal Trade Commission that forbids a California pomegranate company to make misleading claims about the health benefits of its products, McClatchy DC and other news outlets reported. The company, Pom Wonderful, had paid millions of dollars to finance studies at universities and other research facilities and then cited those studies in advertisements to suggest that consuming pomegranates could help people fight heart disease, prostate cancer, or erectile dysfunction.
In a unanimous decision issued on Friday, a three-judge panel of the appellate court agreed with a 2013 ruling by the trade commission that found that the ads were deceptive. The FTC had faulted claims made in the ads because, among other things, the studies those claims were based on lacked a placebo control group, did not have statistically significant results, were not supported by larger follow-up studies, or did not measure meaningful outcomes for a disease.
The court rejected Pom Wonderful’s argument that the claims in its ads were speech protected by the First Amendment.
The FTC had barred Pom Wonderful from advertising that its food products treat or prevent any disease unless it had substantiated those claims through at least two well-controlled, randomized human clinical trials. The appeals court sided with the company in one of its arguments, that the requirement to conduct two such trials was excessive, but the court affirmed that at least one such clinical trial was necessary.
The FTC order, which was to last for 20 years, affects not just Pom Wonderful but all food companies owned by Lynda and Stewart Resnick, who have large agricultural holdings under the umbrella company Roll Global.