J&J Faces A Boycott Over Baby Shampoo Chemicals

J&J Faces A Boycott Over Baby Shampoo Chemicals

November 2nd, 2011 // 12:20 pm @

Two years after several advocacy groups complained about the use of two potentially harmful chemicals in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, the healthcare giant continues to sell the venerable product in the US with traces of those ingredients, but does not do so in several other countries. And the ongoing discrepancy threatens to give J&J yet another black eye.

At issue is the use of quaternium-15, which is a chemical preservative that kills bacteria by releasing formaldehyde. However, as the non-profit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics notes, formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen by the US Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies, such as the National Cancer Institute, have linked exposure to leukemia.

The non-profit previously raised the matter in a 2009 report, in which an independent lab was hired to analyze baby shampoo and found the chemical – as well as 1,4-dioxane – were not listed on the labeling (read here). Other products, such as Oatmeal Baby Wash, Moisture Care Baby Wash and Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Creamy Wash, also contained traces of 1,4-dioxane.

Now, in a follow-up report released this morning, the non-profit reported that Johnson’s Baby Shampoo still contains quaternium-15 in bottles sold in the US, Australia, Canada, China and Indonesia. But bottles sold in Denmark, Finland, Japan, Norway, The Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa and the UK contain preservatives do not contain formaldehyde, according to its analysis. The bottles were purchased and reviewed between July and October of this year.

“This double standard for American consumers seems especially ironic given a recent Forbes survey that showed Johnson & Johnson to be the most trusted corporate brand in America,” the non-profit writes in its latest report, called ‘Baby’s Tub Is Still Toxic.’ Given that the shampoo does not contain formaldehyde in some countries, the non-profit is urging the public not to buy J&J products until the chemicals are removed from all its baby products sold in all markets around the world by November 15 (here is the report).

And in a letter sent yesterday to J&J ceo Bill Weldon, the non-profit asked the health care giant to “remove formaldehyde-releasing preservatives from all of its personal care products worldwide, and to replace them with ingredients known to be safe for vulnerable populations, taking into account repeated exposures” (read the letter).

In a response, J&J sent the non-profit a statement to say that baby products containing formaldehyde are being phased out, but insisted that the “preservative technologies” used are “safe and approved” by authorities in the US and the European Union, as well as in China and India. “We have not seen any evidence of allergy in hundreds of millions of real life uses of these products.”

At the same time, J&J maintains products with these preservatives are no longer being introduced and, over the last few years, the number of formulations worldwide containing formaldehyde dropped by one-third – and by more than 60 percent in the US. The health care giant adds that it has reformulated about 70 percent of baby products to keep trace levels of 1,4-dioxane “below reliably detectable levels” and below levels the FDA considers to be safe. And a newer, cheaper line called Johnson’s Natural was introduced without formaldehyde preservatives or traces of 1,4-dioxane (read the statement here).

However, J&J did not actually address the complete demands made by the group, which is adamant that the health care giant needs to do more. “We’re glad to see that the Johnson & Johnson is taking this seriously. This commitment is a big step in the right direction. We look forward to the day when we can tell consumers the company’s entire product line is free of carcinogens and other chemicals of concern,” sys Lisa Archer, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, in a statement.

To what extent their call for a boycott of J&J baby products will resonate is unclear. But the non-profit has a long list of allies devoted to various health and environmental issues, suggesting a concerted grass roots effort could have an effect. And the timing for J&J is not very good.

As you may recall, the health care giant has already suffered several bloody corporate noses for manufacturing blunders that involved recalling tens of millions of over-the-counter products – some due to musty smells and others due to metallic particles – as well as other items. J&J also blundered by trying to paper over an early recall effort, which led to congressional hearings and government probes. Eventually, a consent decree was signed with the FDA.

Along the way, consumer trust eroded and significant shelf space has been lost as a key plant is re-tooled. The call for a boycott of baby products – which go to the heart of the J&J corporate reputation – is yet another obstacle that may further slow its recovery, even as Wall Street expresses growing confidence in its drug and device operations.

Source: Pharmalot

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