New Delhi: India’s drug regulator has initiated a wider probe into the entire range of baby care products of Johnson and Johnson (J&J) Pvt. Ltd, after ordering it to halt production of its Johnson’s baby powder amid allegations that it contains asbestos. On Thursday, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) issued Form 15 (under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act) to J&J’s manufacturing plants in Mulund and Baddi, barring the company from using raw material for talcum powder till further orders.
“All other baby products will also be tested for their ingredients and preservatives. The drug inspectors have been told to start lifting the samples both from its manufacturing sites and markets all over India,” said a senior official in the health ministry.
The company is facing questions from the drug regulator, amid allegations that its Johnson’s baby powder contains asbestos.
During their probe that started on Wednesday, drug inspectors found that the company was testing the raw material in contravention of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act.
“Under the Act, it is mandatory to test every batch of the raw material. However, drug inspectors found that J&J was randomly testing its raw material,” another official said. “They have been issued Form 15, which means that they cannot dispose of stocks of raw material used for talc till further orders and hence cannot manufacture their talc till further orders.” The company has been restrained from using about 200 tonnes of raw material at its Mulund plant.
J&J offers a range of toiletries for toddlers that includes shampoo, baby lotion, baby soap and baby oil. Samples of these products will be tested at the central drug laboratory.
Ubiquitous in many Indian homes, Johnson’s baby powder has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. In July, too, India’s drug regulator asked J&J in India to reveal the composition of its talc following a report that the US parent was ordered to pay $4.7 billion to 22 women, who claimed that asbestos in its talc had caused them ovarian cancer. In a 19 July email, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation asked the company to share the composition of its powder sold in India and the US.
J&J has maintained that its product passes “five level safety assurance process” and is completely safe and free from asbestos.
“Studies of more than 100,000 men and women show that talc does not cause cancer or asbestos-related disease. Thousands of independent tests by regulators and the world’s leading labs prove our baby powder has never contained asbestos,” said a J&J spokesperson.
Meanwhile, non-profit ToxicsWatch Alliance has sought a ban on “contaminated” powder manufactured by J&J.
Gopal Krishna, director of ToxicsWatch Alliance, has written to DCGI submitting that the investigative report by Reuters is of “deep relevance for the public health”.
“The Reuters investigative report refers to the findings of Dr Irving J. Selikoff, who had conclusively established a link between the inhalation of asbestos particles and lung-related ailments in the 1960s itself that paved the way for ban on asbestos of all kinds in some 60 countries. Dr Selikoff was the director of the environmental and occupational health division of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York,” he said.
According to market researcher Euromonitor International, baby and child-specific toiletries in India are forecast to grow at an average annual pace of 16.5% till 2022 and J&J continues to dominate the space in India.