FDA says it does not have the staff to check all imported cosmetics

By Simon Pitman contact

- Last updated on GMT

FDA says it does not have the staff to check all imported cosmetics
A letter from the FDA to a member of congress underling that the organization is understaffed and only has the resources to check a small fraction of cosmetics imports in the US is causing alarm.

The letter​ was addressed to Representative Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey and is responding to concerns raised by Pallone in a letter he had sent six months previously about imported personal care products.

In the letter, the FDA states that although all imported cosmetic and personal care products are required to meet the same standards as domestically produced products, its program to check such products is one of its smallest.

Small percentage of imports being checked

The letter goes on to state that there were more than 2.9 million entry lines that declared cosmetic and personal care products being imported into the country in 2016, but only 9,871 were physically checked.

These products came from 181 different countries and accounted for 29,000 foreign businesses, while the FDA has only six full-time staff devoted to checking these imports.

“FDA has limited resources to examine imported cosmetics,”​ the letter states.

New York Times turns the spotlight on

The letter was subsequently published in the New York Times last week, with the article stressing that although the FDA is finding a significant amount of violations in the small percentage of imports it checks, the agency's resources means there is little it can do.

One point of concern is the rate of violations in the small number of shipment lines the FDA checked. The FDA  conceded that, of the cosmetic imports into the US in 2016 that it checked, there was a particularly high rate of violations, causing concerns for consumer rights groups.

Of the 9,871 cosmetics lines that were checked by the FDA staff, it reported that 1,474 had violations, a rate of 15%. Likewise, 364 product lines were taken away for laboratory sampling, with 73 resulting in adverse findings, a rate of 20%.

Most contaminated products came from China, with the most common violations being illegal colorants or microbial contamination.

Is the Personal Care Products Safety Act the answer?

The FDA lacks both the authority and the resources to fully address the public health risks cosmetics can pose,”​ The Environmental Working Group (EWG) said in an official response to the letter.

“While the agency can inspect imported cosmetics, foreign manufacturers currently have no obligation to tell the FDA where they are located, what products they are making or what ingredients they are using.”

The EWG believes that the recently introduced Personal Care Products Safety Act cold be the answer to this problem because it would oblige foreign companies to register with the FDA, while collecting fees that could increase the agency’s resources to check imported cosmetics and personal care products.  

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