Blog: Safety allegations could tarnish Mead Johnson's reputation
Katy Askew | 10 February 2017
Headlines that Mead Johnson's board has backed Reckitt Benckiser's takeover bid will no doubt overshadow the other news on the group this week – that it is facing a US lawsuit from a “whistle blower” over alleged breaches of safety procedures.
According to the suit, filed by former employee Linda O'Risky (great name for a safety compliance officer) Mead Johnson failed to identify safety concerns related to a faulty seal on formula sold in the US. When O'Risky attempted to bring the issue to a head, the lawsuit alleges she was sacked for her pains.
While Mead launched an inquiry into the safety of the seals, O'Risky's lawsuit said that investigators "falsely claimed" a defective seal didn't constitute a food safety or FDA compliance problem.
"It became clear that senior management's hope was that the defective products would make their way through the marketplace without any major incidents of harm to consumers and without having to fulfill their legal obligations to report the known problem," the lawsuit asserted.
Speaking to the Chicago Tribune, Mead denied the allegations in the complaint.
"The company's main focus is — and has been for more than a century — the quality and safety of our products. The packaging matter cited in the suit was thoroughly reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and no action was required," a spokesperson said.
These claims – while currently unproven – are bad news for Mead on a number of fronts. Of course, a product recall is a costly and undesirable situation to face. Not only due to the expense of the recall itself but also because of the damage to brand credibility. Nowhere in the food sector do consumers care about safety standards more than in the baby food category.
However, if the lawsuit successfully proves that Mead managers knowingly put sub-standard product out on the market, the damage will surely be worse. Consumers buy into brands and companies that they feel they can trust. And when mistakes are made, consumers expect food makers to act swiftly and transparently to rectify the situation.
Just like Mead purportedly hoped the product would pass through the market under the radar, it is likely that they are hoping news coverage of the lawsuit will do the same. As the case progresses through the US legal system, however, this prospect becomes less and less likely.
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