I've been following the legal battles between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the makers of POM juice and other pomegranate juice products with avid interest, mainly because they deal with the credibility of sponsored scientific research.
The judge ruled that reasonable consumers would interpret the ads as making such claims but that the company had not produced convincing evidence to support them.
The judge's decision makes entertaining reading for someone like me who enjoys debates about whether sponsorship of scientific studies influences results and interpretation--as evidence shows they most definitely do.
POM has invested more than $35 million in research to prove that pomegranate juice has health benefits. It has sponsored about 100 studies at 44 different institutions. At least 70 of these studies were published in peer-reviewed journals.
It is not difficult to design research studies to give sponsors the answers they want and to make sure they are conducted well. POM is getting the best research that money can buy.
One such study, of the effects of drinking pomegranate juice on myocardial perfusion (MP, blood flow to the heart), was conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish, who runs a preventive medicine institute in California (the quotes come from pages 268-269 of the decision).
The Ornish MP study was originally designed to last 12 months, with measurements at baseline, 3 months, and 12 months. [The FTC] charges that the study was cut short when the three-month data came in favorably and Dr. Ornish faced cost overruns.
Dr. [Frank] Sacks [expert witness for the FTC] opined that the shortened study period and failure to report the planned duration are inconsistent with widely accepted standards for conduct of clinical trials and undermine any confidence in the findings.
Dr. Ornish testified that the Ornish MP Study was terminated after three months only because the Resnicks did not provide the funding that they had previously committed to this study....[he said the study]constitutes credible and reliable science showing that pomegranate juice lessens the risk of cardiovascular problems.
The judge found evidence on this study and many others conflicting. He ruled that this level of disagreement about the quality of the research means that the scientific evidence is not good enough to substantiate the claims.