Johnson & Johnson under the lens again

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Food supplement powder
Picture: Pixabay

NEW DELHI: After faulty hip implants, consumer healthcare company Johnson and Johnson (J&J) is under the scanner once again, this time for its talcum powder. Days after the company voluntarily recalled a batch of its baby powder in the US following the discovery of traces of asbestos by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), concerns about its safety have been raised in India. The Indian drug regulatory authority is opening an investigation and has sought help from the FDA. The health ministry wants to know if company has sufficient safeguards in place, people with knowledge of the matter told ET.

“We are in the process to start investigations on talc powder in India,” said a senior official. The drug regulator has asked the FDA asking to share its testing protocol to establish the presence of asbestos in talc.

J&J didn’t respond to queries.

“The samples will be lifted and then be tested once again for any such contamination,” said another government official. The US recall was confined to one lot of the company’s talcum powder that was produced and shipped in the country. The FDA test had found “chrysotile asbestos” contamination in samples from a bottle purchased online. The level of asbestos in the lot was measured at 0.00002%, according to the FDA.

J&J insists that its talc is safe. It has been under scrutiny in India since 2013, when the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration cancelled the licence of one of its facilities after it found that 160,000 packets of baby talcum powder manufactured at the Mulund plant in Mumbai were sterilised at another unit using ethylene oxide, a chemical that is widely believed to cause cancer.

The company went to court and got its licence back. In 2018, it came under scrutiny once again when India’s drug regulator decided to investigate baby powder following reports that said J&J knew for decades about the presence of cancer-causing asbestos in the product. Amid allegations of asbestos content, the drug regulator had barred J&J’s powder production at its Baddi, Himachal Pradesh, and Mulund, Mumbai, plants last year. The samples were sent for examination to a Chandigarh-based government laboratory. It resumed production after the laboratory said the talc was of “standard quality” on February 28 this year.

J&J’s baby powder has faced court challenges in the US over talcum powder, including one verdict of $4.7 billion. 

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