The license to the Mulund plant of Johnson & Johnson company, in Mumbai has been cancelled by the Maharashtra Food and Drug administration, India, on account of the use of ethylene oxide in its baby powder. Ethylene oxide is a substance that is normally used in medical equipment and to produce industrial chemicals. The company is said to have used the substance to sterilise its baby powder but did not conduct the tests necessary to ensure that traces of the same do not remain in the powder. Ethylene oxide is known to cause cancer, in addition to lung damage, vomiting and nausea.
With every break for the shows on TV, you get to see the rather heart melting advertisement for Johnson’s baby care products, that proudly says “we’ve been helping mothers take care of babies for 100 years now.” Indeed. My mom used Johnson’s baby soap, lotion and powder for me and my brother as babies. I still remember the smell it had. A smell I have always associated with childhood, innocence and my brother’s then soft, chubby cheeks. I am smiling right now as I think of it. But it disappears as I bring myself back to reality. Baby powder!!!! Of all the things in the world!!!! Isn’t there anything in this world that we can trust?
About seven lakh products are manufactured using chemical substances in this world. A hundred different food and drug related products with different chemical compositions enter the market everyday. Among the seven lakh products that contain chemical substances, only 1700 products meet the international safety standards, or to be precise, only 1700 of them shall publish authorised information on their package labels, of their compositions and that the product shall not cause any adverse reactions in its consumers. But the disappointment is that these 1700 products are mostly available only in the developed countries. About 50,000 types of such products which do not inform its consumers of its content are sold in the third world countries, including India. If these products were to be tested for health and safety standards, it would take us a good 80 years and an expenditure of five lakh dollars. This is exactly why these procedures have been avoided and the products have been directly sold in the market. To put it raw, the people of the third world nations are the lab mice for the products that have not been tested.
In 2008, China’s leading producers of milk powder for 15 years, Sanlu group, produced and sold melamine laced protein powder, that sickened 300,000 children and caused the death of at least 6 children. About 80 percent of these children were 2 years old. Following this, the man who produced the milk, Zhang Yujun was awarded death sentence, the mayor who issued the permit for the company to be run was dismissed. Sanlu group was bought by Hebei Sanyuan Foods Co Ltd. But in India, a well reputed milk powder company still has tie ups with the Sanlu group.
Under the limelight, the baby products is all we see. But a great deal of politics lurks in the dark, away from all eyes. Reason : the economics that surrounds these baby products. One could say the play began about thirty years back, when UNICEF had reported that a large number of children in the third world nations die due to lack of mothers milk. Maybe the concerns that UNICEF had expressed were indeed genuine. But it seemed to have unleashed more devils than we could handle.
Multinational companies utilised the opportunity well to influence the governments to propagate the message that milk powder is an effective substitute for mother’s milk. India was no exception to this. If the poor were made to believe that milk powder is an equivalent of mothers milk, the well-to-do were told that a woman would lose her beauty if she breast-fed her child. The direct consequence of this misconception was increased prevalence of illness and diseases among children all over the country. This was when the health ministry and the UN, after studying the situation, had concluded that mother’s milk was best for children and consequently the Indian government began educating people on the importance of mothers milk and that the child must be breast-fed for up to at least 1 year. But by then, these companies had established themselves well enough in the country. Even today, the number of mothers who breast feed their child in the northern parts of the country is low, because of the intensity with which the messages favouring milk powder were propagated.
Baby powder is not the only product where these chemicals are used. Baby shampoo, soap, oil – name it and they all have chemicals that harm the child. In shampoos meant for babies ( as well as adults), sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium ethyl sulphate are used – both known to cause cancer. It is a rarity to find a shampoo that does not use sodium lauryl sulphate. In order to rid the baby oil of its oiliness, the oil is filtered and a chemical, hexane is used to extract the light oil. Also, organic salts are added to increase the shelf life of the oil. These chemicals seep in, through the delicate skin of children and cause skin cancer.
In developed countries, there is an effective ban on such products. In India, though, we have still not unlearned the practice of welcoming them with a red carpet.
These chemicals don’t just affect children, but adults too, and more importantly our environment. They seep into the ground through water and make the soil infertile.
The only way we could deal with this, is by going all natural – use home-made products for ourselves and our children. One can come across a thousand ways to look good the natural way, if only one chooses to see how. There are more number of traditional methods to look good than the stars in the sky. Certainly children do not need these chemicals to keep them healthy or beautiful. They only a need a willing mother, who this world is not in dearth of.
But look at what we have been doing to ourselves. We have subjugated ourselves to a few money making giants, let them contaminate our homes, our bodies, our children’s innocence for generations together and thus given them the license to wipe out our entire race from the face of the earth. It is time we woke up.