P.T. Jyothi Datta
Latha Venkatraman

Mumbai, March 17

IT may have come as a shock to parents across the country when the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked Johnson & Johnson to drop the mention of "baby" from its products meant for infants.

But J&J's baby products could be just the beginning. The net to catch products that sell "dreams" will be cast wider, the FDA Commissioner, Mr A. Ramakrishnan, told Business Line.

Any product that claims to have properties or ingredients targeting a specific group should have scientific or medical evidence backing it up, he said. There have been complaints that the baby oil causes allergy, so the company should have put a caution label on its products, he said.

All products that sell dreams, like cosmetics, will be monitored, he said. An FDA official elaborated that baby products would first be put under the scanner. And Wipro is also reported to be under the scanner, he said. Cosmetic companies would follow.

An estimated Rs 200-crore market, the baby care segment has players such as Wipro, Emami and Dabur, to name a few. But if cosmetics too were put under the scanner, corporate bigwigs such as Hindustan Lever Ltd, CavinKare, Emami and Godrej, for example, stand to get impacted.

Meanwhile, J&J has said that it would respond to the authorities within the stipulated time.

In an effort to reassure consumers, a J&J note said: "All baby care products in India including Johnson's baby oil, meet stringent global quality standards. Products made in India are manufactured and sold under licence and approval of the FDA."

More than 200 safety tests and extensive product trials have been conducted in India and many more across the world on babies and adults to ensure that the J&J baby product formulations are mild, gentle and safe for use on a baby's sensitive skin, the note added.

Emami Ltd, with an eye on the high margins healthcare product market, recently launched Sona Chandi Healthy and Fair Baby Masssage Oil. "We do not introduce a product unless thoroughly tested," said Mr Mohan Goenka, Director, Emami.

"Normally FDA first cautions manufacturers about violations before issuing notices. Notices are issued only if manufacturers fail to comply," he said.

Another industry representative, however, said that it may not be possible to reveal every ingredient in the product label.

Hindustan Lever Ltd, a leading manufacturer of cosmetics, declined to comment on the FDA's action.

Meanwhile, the Union Health Ministry has decided to ask the Maharashtra Government for comments on the reported presence of harmful chemicals in baby products, a news agency report quoting the Health Minister, Mr Anbumani Ramadoss, said.

The agency quotes the Minister as saying: "If these reports are found true, we will take a position and issue necessary orders."

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 18, 2005)
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