POM Wonderful has upset another government agency by being way too enthusiastic about its products.

After 19 months of investigation, the Federal Trade Commission Monday charged POM Wonderful LLC in an administrative complaint with making deceptive disease and treatment claims. 

 FTC’s action follows the warning letter sent to POM Wonderful by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last February.  FDA said POM Wonderful pomegranate juice “is promoted for conditions that cause the product to be a drug” and it is making unproven “therapeutic claims.”

In the FTC action, the next step is a hearing before an administrative law judge set for May 24, 2011.   POM Wonderful will have the opportunity to show why it should not be ordered to cease and desist from making claims FTC views as false.

Roll International Corp., POM Chairman Stewart Resnick, President and CEO Matthew Tupper, and Roll co-director Lynda Resnick were named with POM Wonderful as defendants. 

The FTC complaint against POM is “completely unwarranted,” according to Rob Six, the company spokesman.  He said the company stands behind a “vast body of scientific research” documenting the health benefits of pomegranates.  He said the millions of dollars worth of research into pomegranates is unprecedented in the food and beverage industry.

For its part, the FTC says the claims POM makes that its juice and extracts improve heart, prostate, and even erectile function are “unsubstantiated claims.”

“Any consumer who sees POM Wonderful products as a silver bullet against disease has been misled,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. 

 “When a company touts scientific research in its advertising, the research must squarely support the claims made.  Contrary to POM Wonderful advertising, the available scientific information does not prove that POM Juice or POMx effectively treats or prevents these illnesses.”

Only because POM Wonderful was in a billing dispute with one of its outside law firms did it become known that the company was the target of the FTC investigation that apparently dates back to at least February 2009. 

POM briefly persuaded a federal judge to bar the National Law Journal from publishing the fact that it was the target of the FTC investigation, but backed off when other national media got involved in potential appeal of the “prior restraint” ruling.

For its part, FDA has yet to release any response from POM to the warning letter it sent the company in February 2010.

One thing that is certain—there is no shortage of pomegranate fans.   Count “Consumer Reports” magazine among them.  In its “What Works and What Doesn’t Work” section, it recently reported: “… Evidence suggests that ounce for ounce; pomegranate juice contains more antioxidants than blueberries, cranberry juice, green tea and red wine.  And pomegranate juice may also help reduce blood pressure, slow the progression of atherosclerosis.  Works!

But testimony of general goodness is one thing, and specific health claims are something else entirely, at least according to the FTC.

POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice is widely available at grocery stores nationwide, and a 16 oz. bottle retails for approximately $3.99.  POMx pills and liquid extract are sold via direct mail, with a one-month supply costing approximately $30.