Pomegranates Gone Wild

The Coca-Cola machine vs the self-professed lords of pomegranate – the Supreme Court is hearing arguments. POM Wonderful first sued Coca-Cola in 2008 under the Lanham Act, signed into law by Harry Truman, which “prohibits false and misleading statements” about products. POM’s case is essentially one of competition: Coca-Cola has produced a nasty, little product made by its Minute Maid division, and this product is sold as a pomegranate-blueberry juice. In reality, it’s just another sugary apple juice trying to capitalize on the popularity and perceived health benefits of pomegranate. Here’s a description of the product from the Bloomberg article:

In the courtroom, Pom pointed out that when customers buy Minute Maid’s Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of five juices, they think they’re getting mostly pomegranate and blueberry juice. But the beverage is 99.4 percent apple and grape juice, 0.3 percent pomegranate juice, 0.2 percent blueberry juice, and 0.1 percent raspberry juice. Pom also took issue with the images on the label–featuring a pomegranate and blueberries as prominently as an apple, grapes, and raspberries–and the size of the type for “Pomegranate Blueberry” compared with “flavored blend of five juices.”

This product is sold cheaper than POM’s 100% pomegranate juice because it is mostly made up of a cheap and widely available fruit – apples – while pomegranate resources are more scare, and thus this fruit tends to be a more pricey product in its purest form.

Somewhere, there has to be a government dictate that stirs the pot, right? Of course, for Coca-Cola’s defense is that it is adhering to the relevant FDA guidelines for food labeling, and these guidelines allow food companies to call a horse a cat if that horse incidentally passed a cat in the barn somewhere in its past. FDA guidelines are in place in order to protect the Industrial Food Machine from having to reveal industrial ingredients, while allowing them to deceive consumers.

POM has its own issues with deceptive advertising, making multiple health benefit claims as regards pomegranate juice. In the end, it is up to each individual customer to sort it all out and to be self-educated enough to deconstruct marketing ploys. Consumers, much to their dismay, can never rely on an authoritarian, self-interested government body – such as the FDA – to regulate markets and determine individual food choices. I know, no one wants to hear the same old accountability argument because, after all, government is here to protect us, serve us, and keep us informed. And no one wants to hear that the FDA is one of the most politicized and totalitarian arms of the US government that is busy protecting us to death.