You know the one in the spherical bottle. Well it turns out that POM has been funding animal testing in order to be able to make health claims. On 17 Jan, consumer pressure catalyzed by animal-rights groups like PETA finally forced POM to stop its animal abuse. But questions remain…
POM WONDERFUL, one of the most visible brands of pomegranate juice on the US market has been conducting animals tests on their pomegranate juice.
According to the world's largest animal-rights group, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), "In one experiment, balloons were inflated into live rabbits to study erectile dysfunction! In another experiment, baby mice were suffocated to the point of brain damage and then had their heads cut off. Those are just a couple of the tests that POM was funding."
Companies such as POM Wonderful fund these sorts of animals experiments because it gives them the legal right to make health claims for their products, which in turn vastly increases sales. Generally speaking, the health of laboratory animals has to be deliberately damaged in some way so that the researchers can see if, by giving the animals the particular brand of food or drink, there is some level of recovery. Of course, to scientifically quantify this recovery, the animals used are killed at the end of the experiment so that their organs can be studied.
There is nothing illegal about vivisection provided that government guidelines are followed, but legality is no assurance that the experiments are humane and moral (there are many cruel and immoral actions condoned by law). Because these companies conducting animals experiments are not usually breaking the law, the only way to stop them is through consumer action: highlighting to the public the horrors associated with their particular products in the hope that there is a sufficient drop in sales so that the company is forced (profits are the bottom line in business) to discontinue their animal abuse.
This is what has happened with POM Wonderful: the accumulation of consumer disapproval culminated with Wholefoods Inc., the US-based health food giant proclaiming that it would be discontinuing POM pomegranate juice if POM continued to fund animal experimentation. This commercial pressure was too great for POM who issued the following letter on the 17 Jan 2007 to all its retailers:
In response to this letter and declaration that POM would stop animal experimentation, PETA issued a "victory" statement and urged everyone to thank POM for doing the right thing. However, the POM's letter above is actually quite disturbing for a number of reasons which few seem to have picked up on, and it raises some important questions and issues.
Here is a paragraph by paragraph critique of the POM letter to retailers:
- By using the phrase, "we have no plans to do so in the future" POM very much leaves the door open to animal testing; companies can and do change their plans over time. This statement offers, therefore, absolutely no reassurance that POM will no longer experiment on animals, only that they have stopped doing so for the time being.
- "Proud" is an odd choice of words considering that 20% of the medical research POM funded involved the abuse of animals, although POM would probably argue that there are ways to experiment on and then kill animals that do not constitute "abuse". This is just a play on words. It is also rather odd that POM state that they were "wrongly accused" of funding "unnecessary and inhumane animal research". The fact is that the research was unnecessary — nobody was forcing POM to do it; POM chose to do it because they wanted to be able to make health claims for their product so that they could make stronger advertising claims and increase sales. As for implying that their experiments were humane despite the fact that the animals suffered and died says more for POM's attitude towards animals as a means to an end rather than the severity of the tests. (Quite how these experiments can ever be conducted humanely takes some imagination!)
- It is only "necessary" to fund animal testing if your "quest" was mandatory, which it clearly was not in this case. POM try to justify their decision by implying that their juice can "help treat... arteriosclerosis, prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction and birth defects" and therefore it was their moral duty to fund the necessary animal testing. However, justifying immoral actions on the back of grandiose claims is a standard defence used by the pro-animal experiment lobby. You can justify any sort of immoral action by putting it forward as merely a necessary sacrifice for the greater good — a means to a glorious end. Ethics and morality cannot be supported by such reasoning.
- POM try to give the impression that they had no choice in the matter as such research is "required". However, it was only a requirement because they insisted on following the route to making health claims rather than just nutritional claims. They could always choose not to go down the health-claim route.
- Just because the vivisection was conducted by world class universities and even by a Nobel Laureate does not make it acceptable. Cruelty is cruelty. Some of the most brilliant scientists in human history have done some appauling and amoral experiments.
- "The science came first"? I presume by this POM means that they went into the pomegranate juice industry because the juice had been shown scientifically to contain high levels of antioxidants. However, this does not give them a mandate to automatically continue scientific experimentation that involves animal testing.
- "League of your own"... sure. Most people would be ashamed to be in that league. POM's "determination to uncover the truth" is the same determination that has driven countless inhumane animal experiments. In a civilized society the search for truth cannot be used as a justification for immoral acts.
- This is a bazaar paragraph that first sings the praises of pomegranate juice calling it "health in a bottle" and implying that it is "21st century medicine" along with other supermarket products, and then makes a statement about many of today's drugs coming from natural sources. Taken together with paragraph 3, POM seem to be claiming "magic bullet" status for their pomegranate juice. Do they have a medical licence to make these claims? I am sure most independent scientists and doctors would agree that such claims are exaggerated.
- "In good faith"??? It is illegal to make health claims outside of nutritional claims without research to back those claims, so "good faith" doesn't actually come into it. How many of these human trails POM have initiated are resting on animal experiment foundations (you often cannot do human trials without first doing animal trials). This ongoing human research is undoubtedly being conducted on the back of animals experiments that have already been done, which means that POM is continuing to financially benefit from the animal experiments that it has carried out.
- This is completely absurd. The bottom line of all businesses is profit. Does POM really expect us to believe that they invested $125m and have been doing all this research just for the benefit of mankind? POM may be breaking even now but they are setting up a system that will be raking in millions of dollars. And key to the success of their business is to be able to make health claims for their juice as this will vastly increase the effectiveness of their advertising. And anyway, playing the "poverty card" is no justification for animal abuse — even if it was not for money (which is highly unlikely), it is wrong anyway. (By the way, Newsweek estimated that sales of POM juice are around $91million a year — obviously a poor seller!)
- Just because a company is privately held is no justification for the level of investment or the morality of the business decisions. In fact, it is easier for a private company to make controversial decisions because it does not have stockholders to answer for and its decision making process is not in the public eye. And although saving human lives may be one important factor, POM have not mentioned profit, which is rather odd considering they are a successful business with some big plans. The last sentence in this paragraph about their commitment to "doing good" seems to glaringly contradict their investment in vivisection.
- Depends upon what sort of claims you need to make. If you are making medical claims for food substances such as a particular fruit being able to clear clogged arteries then you need to have medical research to back it. But if you are claiming that a particular food is good for the body because of its high nutritious content then you do not need medical research to back it, only product analysis and perhaps some testimonials and case studies. POM have chosen to make medical claims for their products because advertising on the back of medical claims makes for far higher sales. Most other food/drink companies don't ride on the back of medical research and so can only make general nutritional claims. Notice that POM also use the word "invested" in relation to the $20m they have put into medical research. This implies that they were operating a business and not just doing this investment for the benefit of humankind (see paragraphs 10 and 11).
- Now this paragraph probably has a strong element of truth. Many of the other pomegranate juices on the market probably do ride on the back of some of POM's research. But just because this happens is no justification for that research.
- This is just more POM promotion. POM say they are doing their medical research for the benefit of mankind, but they are not happy sharing that benefit with other manufacturers of pomegranate juice. However, any benefits shown for their pomegranate juice are likely to be shared by other brands of pomegranate juice. To state otherwise, is probably more marketing than actual fact, depending upon what the active components are and whether POM happens to have more of them in its juice. (The best pomegranates in terms of taste and size generally come from Iran.)
- It is all very easy to dismiss PETA's criticism as "Gross exaggerations and outright lies" without going into any detail whatsoever. Did animals actually suffer and die, or was this all just PETA fabrication? And if so, why is POM issuing statements that their animal testing has ceased? And just because a rabbit study was done over two years ago does not make it less cruel or POM less culpable. Remember, POM do state in paragraph 12 that they have invested $20m into research, and in the next paragraph (16) they state that 20% of this was directed towards animal testing. Therefore they admit to spending $4m directly on animal experiments. That is a lot of suffering!
- "Only 20%"? Again, they are admitting to $4m worth of animal abuse, which is substantial (especially if you are a rodent). POM seem to be saying that because they only did one rabbit study whilst all the other studies were done with mice and rats, that somehow the abuse was less serious. What POM fail to grasp is that life is life, and that experimenting on and then killing mice is equivalent, in terms of cruelty, to experimenting on and killing monkeys, for example. Smaller animals are not less important in terms of their intrinsic value than larger animals. This sort of statement reflects poorly on POM's perspective on the value of animals.(See paragraph 2 analysis as well.)
- POM could mean by this that testing ended last year because that just happened to be when their last animal test ended. And remember, when they wrote this they were only 2 weeks into January! And just because "strict guidelines were followed" regarding these animal experiments and that they were under the watchful eye of university and other bodies does NOT imply that they animals were treated humanely. Some of the most appalling animal abuse is entirely legal and supervised!
- There is no excuse for this alleged militant protest (if indeed it was militant). Peaceful "in your face" protest is, however, justified. The primate issue, however, is a red herring that POM seems to have highlighted as it is one of the accusations POM can confidently refute. As for the "charitable work" POM does to keep "the world safe for all living beings", this smacks of pure doublespeak coming from a company that is "proud" of its animal experimentation (see paragraph 2).
- Is POM implying that PETA sent bomb threats or threatened the safety of POM employees and their children? I don't think so, but by making the association between extreme action and PETA, POM try to justify their refusal to sign PETA's petition to end animal research for good. This also leaves the door open for POM to conduct vivisection in the future as per paragraph 1.
- Making threats like these are illegal and I am sure the police are investigating and will procecute if they can. However, it is important to distance such action from PETA which is not a militant organization. The vast majority of its membership are not even activists, but just ordinary individuals concerned for the welfare of animals.
- The details of scientific philosophy and direction are NOT a private matter if they involve cruelty to animals. POM cannot do what it likes with impunity just because it is a private company. POM also need to be more specific in outlining how PETA was "destructive" to employees. (Their educational campaign probably reduced sales and so I can accept that that campaign was destructive economically.)
- PETA have publicly said that POM refused to dialogue about ending animal research. This contradicts POM's statement that PETA would not constructively dialogue. POM also state that they got "an injunction against the most radical individuals". However, they did not get an injunction against PETA itself, and so this implies that PETA did not act unlawfully. And yet, POM is happy to imply in this letter that PETA did act unlawfully and associates them with militant groups. Trying to smear PETA does not paint POM in a good light. The last statement is a very ignorant one: what POM do not seem to have grasped is that ordinary people who far outnumber animal activists are disgusted by POM's animal testing as well, and only a very small percentage of them are even members of animal rights groups.
- If something is said that is false, that is covered by libel law and POM can do something about it. However, the law may protect individuals and organizations against defamatory statements, but it offers little protection from what are perceived as "unfair" statements. PETA only showed the public the horrors of animal experimentation, period. And if that is "scary" to the public then the best solution should logically be for POM to stop its behaviour rather than PETA to stop reporting POM's behaviour.
- Again we have the statement that POM has "no plans to [experiment on animals] in the future" which leaves the door open to them to change their plans any time and start experimenting on animals. They also reiterate that human trails are ongoing, but remember that these trials have probably been built on a foundation of animal experimentation. So POM continues to actively reap the rewards of vivisection. And just because POM tea has not involved similar studies does not mean that those who care about animals should consider it cruelty-free when its manufacturer is actually "proud" of its research, 20% of which involves vivisection.
POM are making it clear in this letter that they are not only unrepentant regarding their animal experiments but are actually "proud" of them (2), and that the health claims that can be made for pomegranate juice outweigh animal suffering (6, 7, 8, 9). They also stop well short of permanently rejecting vivisection, stating only that they "have no plans to do so in the future"(1, 24), which leaves the door open for them to animal test should they decide to change their plans, refusing point blank to sign the PETA petition to permanently reject animal research (19).
Given this position, should POM be stocked by retail outlets with ethical policies against animal testing? In our opinion, it should not. POM has only grudgingly stopped animal experimentation, and they have given no assurance that they will not continue to advertise on the back of animal research that has already been done and human research that was only made possible by their earlier animal experimentation. So without such an assurance, POM get to have their cake and eat it too: they get to claim that they currently do not experiment on animals whilst at the same time being able to make health claims for their juice that are based on animal experimentation (or human experimentation made possible by animal experimentation).
Another important bias in POM's retail letter above is that it did not mentioning mainstream consumer pressure from the supermarket giant Wholefoods Inc. to stop animal experimentation or lose what must be one of their largest accounts, and referred only to the alleged abuses and illegitimate pressure of animal rights groups such as PETA and the Animal Rights Militia (15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23), In our opinion, this is misleading and an insult to ordinary consumers like ourselves (who are not members of animal rights groups) who complained to Wholefoods Inc. (through their London stores Fresh & Wild) about the unethical nature of POM branded products because they contravened the store's ethical policy (which we were personally assured existed by the London store manager).
What POM seems reluctant to face up to is that there are vastly more ordinary consumers disgusted by POM's unnecessary and cruel animal experimentation than there are animal rights activists upset by it, and there are, in turn, vastly more lawful animal rights activists concerned with this issue than militant activists. And you can bet that Wholefood Inc.'s decision to have an ethical policy and to take a stand on POM juice is dictated by its customers and not militant animal rights activists. To imply, by omission, that only militant animal rights activists took issue with POM products, and that their aggressive tactics unreasonably forced POM to stop vivisection, serves only to politicise and polarize the issue — by squaring off animal abuse against alleged human abuse by militant campaigners (19), the impact of the animal abuse is offset.
POM uses standard falacious arguments to condone animal abuse, and so despite the fact it has ceased its experimentation, it is still philosophically very much pro-vivisection. In fact, its entire letter is a diatribe in support of animal experimentation — a defence of the indefensible. For this reason, we feel that ordinary people interested in animal welfare should not purchase POM products until the company not only agrees to permanently cease animal experimentation but officially changes its stance towards vivisection.
So if you disapprove of animal experimentation, please stop drinking POM pomegranate juice despite the fact that the company has publicly stated that it has currently stopped animal testing. Remember that POM Wonderful still seems quite happy to use the animal research done before this declaration to sell its not-so-wonderful juice.