The Sri Lankan authorities have halted the import of Johnson & Johnson’s baby talcum powder, and the company has been informed that the product will be green-lighted for import only after it can prove that the talcum powder is free from asbestos.
The baby powder is one of the most popular baby care products in the company’s portfolio, but in December 2018 it was revealed that Johnson & Johnson was aware for decades that the product contained traces of asbestos. Asbestos is known to cause cancer, and the revelations have triggered tests on the talcum powder in many countries. That initial report by Reuters was based on internal communication at Johnson & Johnson, memos and other documents. The American company has dismissed the report as being inflammatory and false.
Sri Lanka imports its products from Johnson & Johnson India, and they have asked their distributor in the neighboring country to conduct further tests on the baby powder product. Once the test results from the Indian authorities come through and if it proves to be negative about the presence of asbestos, then Sri Lanka will commence imports once again. However, the units that are already in the country will be sold.
The head of Sri Lanka’s National Medicine Regulatory Authority (NMRA), Kamal Jayasinghe, stated that the distributor (A. Baur & Co) had been intimated about the developments, and further tests are needed to resume imports. Speaking to Reuters, Jayasinghe said, “We have held their re-registration and informed the distributor to submit quality reports from an accredited laboratory to ensure there is no asbestos in their products.”
What makes the whole situation a bit tricky is that the Indian authorities had already cleared Johnson & Johnson’s product and the talcum powder is back on the shelves. Shalutha Perera, an executive at A. Baur, stated that J&J India handles all regulatory matters. A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson India refused to speak regarding the halting of imports to Sri Lanka but did add that the product complies with Indian regulatory standards. The person said, that “ [Johnson & Johnson] is in full compliance with current Indian regulatory requirements for the manufacturing and testing of our talc.” This company has blowback in several countries regarding talcum powder, primarily because it has been a trusted product for generations of people and the brand loyalty spans generations.