Novo Nordisk steps away from now-controversial Paula Deen

Novo Nordisk has backed away from Paula Deen, at least for now. The drugmaker joins a laundry list of Deen partners who've distanced themselves from the celebrity chef, now that she has confessed to using racist language and telling offensive jokes at work.

Deen signed on as a Novo ($NVO) spokeswoman last year, announcing that she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes--and would develop "diabetes-friendly" versions of her notoriously fat-laden recipes. The marketing deal touched off controversy, and not only because of Deen's "butter lady" reputation; she had been diagnosed three years before, but kept the information under wraps.

Since then, Deen has lost weight, unveiled a southern-style cookbook full of healthier recipes, and participated in a slate of diabetes-education events nationwide. Now, those efforts will stop temporarily, the company said in a statement, without specifically mentioning the current brouhaha about Deen's behavior.

"Novo Nordisk and Paula Deen have mutually agreed to suspend our patient education activities for now, while she takes time to focus her attention where it is needed," the company said, going on to credit her diabetes-awareness efforts. "[S]he has helped make many people aware of Type 2 diabetes and the lifestyle changes needed to control this serious disease," the statement said.

The latest controversy began after Deen admitted under oath that she had used racist language and considered throwing a "plantation-style" wedding with an all-black wait staff. In videotaped apologies posted on YouTube, Deen maintained that she isn't racist, blaming her Southern upbringing for any inappropriate behavior. During an interview yesterday on the Today show, she again denied being racist and said she was unsure whether the N-word was offensive to black people, Today's website reports.

Today also notes that 5 other companies have severed ties with Deen entirely, including her TV home, the Food Network. Smithfield Foods, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Caesars Entertainment all dropped her as well.

But Deen has her supporters, too; customers pre-ordering her book "Paula Deen's New Testament: 250 Favorite Recipes, All Lightened Up" pushed it to No. 1 on Amazon's best-seller's list, Today reports. Her fans blame "political correctness" for the outcry, saying Deen has freedom of speech--and should be forgiven for mistakes she's made in the past. Others have said that the public should suspend judgment until the discrimination lawsuit against Deen's business is resolved.

Paula Deen is far from the first pharma spokesperson to find herself in the hot seat. In 2008, Pfizer ($PFE) pulled its Lipitor ads starring artificial heart inventor Robert Jarvik after work leaked that he had never actually practiced medicine (the fact that a body double was actually rowing the boat in the ad didn't help). To comment on pharma's use of celebrities--and reasonable expectations for their behavior--visit FiercePharma's LinkedIn group here.

- read the statement from Novo
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