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Aunque la mona se viste de seda, mona se queda

21/02/2012

In 2001 Mead Johnson Nutritionals, an Indiana company founded in 1905 and at the time a division of the mighty Bristol-Myers Squibb, filled 3.7m 16oz cans with its Nutramigen Baby Formula powder and 930,000 32oz cans with the ready-to-feed variant, destined for the Spanish-speaking market. The cans were distributed nationwide and also in Guam, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The hypoallergenic Nutramigen was intended as a sole food source for infants younger than 6 months, who had certain digestive problems or who were allergic to proteins found in milk or soya-based formulas. The preparation instructions were printed on the cans in English and Spanish.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you.

Yes, the Spanish instructions were wrong, potentially fatally wrong. The English instructions correctly stated that the ready-to-use formula should be used without water while the powder should be mixed with 2oz of water for each scoop of powder, whereas in Spanish the ratios were confused. Adhering to the preparation instructions in Spanish could have led to seizures, vomiting, arrhythmic heartbeat, lethargy or even death if the incorrect mixture had been consumed for several days.

With an impressively straight face, the company pointed out that infants living in hot climates (such as, ooooh, the southern United States, Guam, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, for example), or who were already sick, were “at greater risk for potentially fatal complications”.

The error was – fortunately for the company but to the lasting disappointment of America’s massed ranks of class-action attorneys – noticed before any baby fell ill, let alone died. In defiance of the old adage, however, lightning does strike twice. Mead Johnson made a second blunder requiring a product recall, and in Spanish again, in 2004.

Let’s keep the Spanish flavour. Frank Perdue (1920-2005) of Maryland is credited with creating the first branded chicken. Perdue Farms advertised nationally in 1971 with Frank’s portrait and the slogan: “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken”. Sadly, punning word-play doesn’t always work in another language. When Perdue Farms started selling internationally, the slogan was translated into Spanish as: “Se necesita un hombre potente para que un pollo sea afectuoso”. For some strange reason, Frank’s folksy grin shown over the proposition that it takes a lusty man to make a chicken feel randy failed to have instant customer appeal south of the border, down Mexico way.

Today’s headline: A monkey, dressed in silk, is still a monkey

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One Comment
  1. Arvostan Tarkkuutta, Helsinki permalink

    An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.
    Orlando Battista

    Good luck with this blog, my friend. I like the mixture of the humor and the learning.

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