More than a week after a big recall of tainted Tylenol and other non-prescription drugs, a battle has erupted between drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and makers of a shipping component the company blames for the problem.

An undisclosed number of containers of Tylenol, Motrin and other over-the-counter drugs were recalled earlier this month after consumers complained of feeling sick from an “unusual” odor.

Johnson & Johnson officials are now saying that the problem was caused by the wooden pallets used to ship the products. Pallet manufacturers take exception to this. National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) president Bruce Scholnick points out that there are 1.2 billion pallets used each day in the USA and that industry experts have no knowledge of pallets ever being responsible for release of either of the two chemicals that Johnson & Johnson blame for the problem.

“We also insist that you provide technical and scientific theory as to how this chemical could spread from a tertiary packaging component to a primary packaging component through various layers of cardboard and plastic packaging surrounding the primary product,” said Scholnick.

Regardless, it is obvious that the incident is causing image problems for the company. The Christian Science monitor reports that, unlike the proactive approach taken by the company in its voluntary 1982 recall of tainted Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson dragged its feet in the current episode. According to a FDA spokesman, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the business unit responsible for the products, didn’t respond to the problem quickly. “While McNeil has cooperated with FDA in recent weeks, their initial response was unsatisfactory,” says Christopher Kelly, an FDA press officer. “We repeatedly pressed them.”

Slow to respond. Quick to point fingers at others. A root cause that sounds a bit far-fetched and which is, according to NWPCA spokespersons, “factually unsupported.” This doesn’t sound like the same company that we all came to know and admire in 1982. I hope subsequent actions by Johnson & Johnson prove me wrong.

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