The Controversial Pom & Pistachio Magnates

Here’s an excellent piece on California philanthropists/fruit magnates Lynda and Stewart Resnick. By Susan Berfield, writing for Bloomberg Businessweek: A Pistachio Farmer, Pom Wonderful, and the FTC

On an unexpectedly rainy October day in Los Angeles, Stewart Resnick looks out the window of a third-floor conference room and shrugs. It’s midway through California’s biggest-ever pistachio harvest and the rain is yet another reminder, should anyone need it, of how important water is to his business. He helps himself to a half a vegetable wrap and a bottle of Fiji Water—one of the four big consumer brands Resnick owns—and takes his place at the head of the table, where senior executives of his private company, Roll International, have gathered to discuss how to sell 300 million pounds of pistachios….

It’s an interesting read throughout. I’m posting it here without comment, though the article raises lots of interesting ethical questions. The main ethical issues concern the Resnicks’ control over a substantial proportion of California’s precious water supply, and the FTC’s charges that the Resnicks’ company made false claims regarding the health benefits of their Pom pomegranate drink.

Here’s a bit about the FTC case:

The case against the Resnicks will be heard by an FTC administrative law judge in May; the couple expect to appeal to a federal court after that. They have already filed their own suit against the FTC, claiming that preventing them from publicizing the results of their studies violates their right to free speech. “We are consumed with doing good,” says Lynda. “That’s why this Pom stuff is so ridiculous. Please. We are fruit. Hello? Why do we need thousands of people in a 20-year trial for fruit? They do it for drugs because drugs kill people, or potentially harm them.”

But Berfield also quotes nutrition & food policy expert, Marion Nestle:

I love using Pom research as an example of how easy it is to design elaborate studies to give you the answer you want,” says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

p.s. I’ve blogged about the Pom case before: Pom: Juice, Drug, or Something New?
Note (added June 1, 2012). Here’s a new blog entry I wrote about the legal judgment against POM Wonderful, from an ethics point of view: “POM Wonderful and hearts vs brains”

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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