House to examine Johnson & Johnson 'phantom recall'

House Democrats are asking the head of Johnson & Johnson to testify later this month over the April recall of 135 million bottles of infant and children's medicine.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), also wants J&J CEO William Weldon to respond to new information gathered during the panel's ongoing investigation into charges the company hired private contractors in 2008 to go store to store and buy up defective Motrin tablets — an episode Towns has dubbed the "phantom recall."

Towns on Thursday released e-mails from one of those contractors — San Diego-based WIS International — suggesting the company planned to extend the phantom recall to other defective products.

"[W]e are exploring another similar but potentially larger recall for July involving Children's Tylenol," a WIS executive wrote in June 2009. The effort, the executive continued, "would make our Motrin project look small."

J&J launched an enormous recall of a number of its products, including Motrin and Children's Tylenol, in April of this year.

That timeline, combined with the new e-mails, raises two important questions, Towns says.

"First, was Johnson & Johnson considering conducting a phantom recall of children's medicine?" Towns wrote Thursday in a letter to Weldon. And second: "Was Johnson & Johnson aware of problems with Children's Tylenol and other children's medicines months before it actually recalled these products?"

The hearing is scheduled for Sept. 30.