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Federal Agencies Target Natural Products-but Give Big Food a Free Pass on False Advertising

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Myth of Natural Campaign Page.

The FDA and the FTC won't allow reasonable, science-based claims about foods and supplements, but they let mega-companies like Coke run wild. Action Alert!

Something is rotten in the state of false advertising:  

POM Wonderful     
The product?
Blueberry Flavored

Pomegranate Juice 
The composition?
0.3% pomegranate juice 100% pomegranate juice  
The label?
"Help Nourish Your Brain!"; big picture of pomegranate  
"Cheat Death!"; humorous picture of the bottle in a noose  
The government
According to the FDA, this label is completely kosher. The FTC hasn't made a peep.   
According to the FTC, POM Wonderful needs two Randomized Controlled Trials (a standard typically reserved for drug approval) to support its prior labeling claims-even the ones clearly intended to be humorous.   

Two important court cases shed some light on FTC's special treatment of Coca-Cola, and its targeting of POM Wonderful:

POM Wonderful vs. Coca-Cola: POM Stands Up for Consumers

In 2008, POM Wonderful took Coca-Cola to court over its Minute Maid brand's "Pomegranate Blueberry" flavored juice. It sued Coke under the Lanham Act, which allows a company to litigate against competitors that misrepresent the nature of their products.

According to POM's suit, Coca-Cola engaged in false advertising by portraying a product that contains less than 1% of pomegranate and blueberry juice (it's mostly apple and grape juice) as pomegranate juice. It seems Coca-Cola wanted to cash in on the market largely created by POM Wonderful, but in a way that would let it cut corners and save money (its solution was to slap a "Pomegranate Flavored Juice!" label on apple juice and call it a day).

Questions about this case have made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which now has to decide whether or not POM can proceed with its lawsuit. One issue being debated is whether an FDA-approved label is exempt from a lawsuit under the Lanham Act.

That's right: the FDA didn't take action on Coca-Cola's clearly deceptive labeling because the product's label is 100% FDA compliant-the agency has no qualms about it whatsoever. In part, this is because the FDA allows companies to label a product based on its flavor, rather than its contents.

Another question being debated by SCOTUS: can a label that is FDA-compliant still be held legally responsible for misleading consumers? If the Supreme Court says "yes," this could be a potential embarrassment to the FDA: it could illustrate that Big Food companies can easily game the FDA's system, to the detriment of consumers.