What Earthquakes And The FTC Have In Common

Rarely do Italian earthquakes and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) play similar roles in the news, but this week they coincidentally led to disaster for two food products: artisanal cheese and POM Wonderful juice.

The freak earthquake in northern Italy, near Bologna, killed seven people and had far reaching effects that were felt by cheese producers in the area. Meanwhile, though they weren't contending with a natural disaster, the makers of POM Wonderful also came face-to-face with misfortune, when the FTC sued them for promoting false health claims in advertisements for their pomegranate juices. Both products are attempting to make a recovery, one more gracefully than the other.

Italian Earthquake vs. Parmesan Cheese

Last Sunday, the 6.0 magnitude earthquake in northern Italy destroyed historic churches, castles and clock towers. Amidst the chaos, parmesan producers in the farmlands north of Bologna woke up to the sound of massive wheels of cheese raining down from their shelves. According to the Guardian, an estimated 10 percent of the region's annual parmesan production fell (and was possibly damaged) during the quake.

The news that 300,000 wheels of cheese plummeted to the ground during the earthquake caused panic within the artisanal cheese community and for good reason. Maturing parmesan to the point where it's ready to sell can take as long as 24 months, and wheels typically fetch over $500. Unfortunately for the producers, parmesan wasn't the only product hurt. Grana Padano, a similar cheese, suffered a major loss as well. A state of emergency was declared for the region and some cheesemakers began work again as early as Monday. In the meantime, we advise stocking up on parmesan while you still can.

Federal Trade Commission vs. POM

The legal battle between the FTC and POM began in September 2010, when the FTC sued POM for false health claims made in their advertising campaign. POM claimed its juice could prevent and treat erectile dysfunction and that it reduced the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. On Wednesday, an administrative judge ruled in the FTC's favor, concluding that POM did actively deceive consumers with some of their advertisements and in doing so violated federal trade law. You can read the 335-page ruling here. According to the judge, "Expert testimony demonstrated that there was insufficient competent and reliable scientific evidence to support claims..."

Not to be deterred by a mere judge's ruling, POM Wonderful responded by running a full page ad in The New York Times on Thursday with the headline: "FTC v. POM: You Be The Judge." It quotes the judge out of context as being in support of POM's health benefits. Check out POM's ad campaigns and see what you think.