The battle waging between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and POM Wonderful, maker of the popular pomegranate juice drinks and supplements, continues to escalate—and many experts believe the outcome could have profound effects on the U.S. functional food and beverage and dietary supplement industries.

The brief recap of the situation is this: The FTC maintains that POM has grossly overstepped the legal line in the disease claims it is making for its products. On September 27, the agency filed an official administrative complaint against POM, charging the company with false and unsubstantiated claims that POM's products can prevent or treat heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction. "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, in a statement. "When a company touts scientific research in its advertising, the research must squarely support the claims made. Contrary to POM Wonderful's advertising, the available scientific information does not prove that POM juice or POMx effectively treats or prevents these illnesses."

The FTC's complaint—which was filed against POM, its sister corporation Roll International Corp. and its principals Stewart Resnick, Lynda Resnick and Matthew Tupper—set forth a proposed order requiring Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pre-approval before POM Wonderful makes future claims that certain products prevent or treat serious diseases, "in order to provide clearer guidance for the company, facilitate POM Wonderful's compliance with the proposed order, and make it easier to enforce."

POM, of course, denies the agency's allegations and maintains that the FTC is infringing upon its First Amendment rights to free speech. In a demonstration of the passion with which it holds these views, the company filed its own preemptive lawsuit against the FTC on September 15, accusing the agency of setting new standards in recent consent decree settlements with Nestle Healthcare Nutrition and Iovate Health Sciences (makers of numerous dietary supplements, including the weight-loss product Hydroxycut) that impair POM's ability to do business by requiring government prescreening of ads.

As Loren Israelsen, executive director of the United Natural Products Alliance, told, this legal battle is something everyone in the functional food and beverage and supplement industries needs to watch. "It is the biggest fight since Ali. vs. Frazier," Israelsen says. "I don't see either side caving in." spoke with Israelsen and other leading industry experts to gauge their views on what the outcome of this amped up battle could mean for POM Wonderful, government regulators, and other functional food and beverage companies.