WASHINGTON, May 2 (Reuters) - POM Wonderful told an appeals court on Friday that U.S. federal regulators who determined the company’s advertising was misleading had overstepped in their crackdown, but the juice maker got little comfort from the judges.
In January 2013, the Federal Trade Commission said POM Wonderful was deceptive in advertising that its pomegranate juice and other products had been clinically proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and other ailments. POM filed an appeal with an appeals court in Washington.
Thomas Goldstein, arguing for POM Wonderful, said the advertisements which most concerned the Federal Trade Commission were discontinued in 2005 and others were halted in 2007.
And, he argued, the FTC went too far in demanding that the company produce two randomized, controlled clinical trials before saying that POM’s pomegranate juice fights heart disease, prostate cancer or other ailments.
The three appeals court justices gave him little comfort on the issue of the advertisements themselves.
At one point, Judge Merrick Garland read a portion of an ad aloud and said: “I don’t understand if you look at those two paragraphs how you can say that it’s not misleading.”
He also read aloud a disclaimer that POM included in a second advertisement and said: “This is not at all good enough.”
But the judges did seem concerned that requiring the clinical trials for pomegranate juice -- a substance that cannot be patented -- might be an overly expensive proposition even for a luxury juice company.
Garland pressed FTC General Counsel Jonathan Nuechterlein, who argued for the agency on why two studies were needed, adding: “I‘m not sure why you require two.”
The FTC commissioners, in issuing their order, found that 36 advertisements were deceptive. An FTC judge had earlier found false or deceptive claims in 19 advertisements or promotional materials.
The advertisements for POM that the FTC challenged appeared in such publications as Parade, Fitness and Prevention magazines as well as online and on product tags, the FTC said.
In another case, POM Wonderful was at the Supreme Court in late April accusing Coca-Cola Co’s Minute Maid juice label of being misleading for touting pomegranates and blueberries for a drink that contains just a trace amount of those ingredients.
POM Wonderful had sued Coca-Cola, claiming Minute Maid was misleading and would hurt sales for Pom Wonderful’s 100-percent pomegranate juice product.
The case against the FTC at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is POM Wonderful v the Federal Trade Commission and is case No. 13-1060. (Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by David Gregorio)