NATIONAL

Remove 'baby' label from baby oil

MUMBAI, MARCH 17. The Maharashtra Food and Drugs Commissioner, Mr. A. Ramakrishna, confirmed today that his office had requested the Drug Controller of India to send out notices to all drug commissioners in the country to ensure that the popular baby oil, lotion and shampoo products of the multinational Johnson & Johnson did not use the term "baby".

This action is the result of a complaint by a consumer whose infant had an adverse reaction on using these products. The problem was traced to the presence of mineral oil.

"Misleading labelling"

On March 15, the Maharashtra Food and Drugs Administration served notice under Section 17 (c) of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act on Johnson & Johnson asking it to remove the word "baby" from its baby oil, baby shampoo and baby lotion products as "misleading labelling." In response to the complaint, the FDA tested the products and found that they contained light liquid paraffin oil that was not mentioned on the label. "You don't use a mineral oil on babies," Mr. Ramakrishna told The Hindu. The company had been given 15 days to respond.

Asked if it had tested the products, the company said the products had been tested on people in the age group 18 to 51 years. "They should have been tested on babies 18 to 51 days old," said Mr. Ramakrishna. While the FDA has issued notices against the oil, shampoo and lotion, Mr. Ramakrishna said the baby powder and soap produced by the company were all right as they conformed to the standards set by the FDA.

"We have no problem if these products [the oil, shampoo and lotion] are sold like any other cosmetic as cosmetics have chemicals," explained Mr. Ramakrishna. But they should not be marketed for babies, he said. Also, as Johnson & Johnson had manufacturing facilities in different parts of the country, and the order at present applied only to its facilities in Maharashtra, the Commissioner felt it important to request the Drug Controller of India to notify all other drug controllers.

Consumer groups in Mumbai are elated at the FDA order. However, Shirish Deshpande of the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, a leading consumer rights organisation, said that just removing the term "baby" from such products was not enough. The brand image of these products had been established in people's minds. As a result, merely removing a label would not be enough. Under the Consumer Protection Act, consumers could ask for "corrective advertising," Mr. Deshpande told The Hindu. His group had already succeeded in getting three liquor companies to remove surrogate advertisements from local trains. Now they had asked for "corrective advertising" from these companies so that the damage done by the earlier advertisements could be neutralised. A similar action was being contemplated in this matter.

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