THE 21-member Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) bloc raced to forestall a regional health crisis on Friday, as it emerged that one of South Africa’s biggest firms had recalled a string of babycare products after coming into contact with a cancer-causing raw material.
Infants in Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), eSwatini, Seychelles and Zambia were at risk, said the Comesa Competition Commission, as it disclosed that contaminated batches had been shipped onto these markets.
After extensive deindustrialisation in the aftermath of a protracted economic crisis, Zimbabwe has increasingly relied on imports from South Africa to serve its growing population.
The southern African country imports everything from beans, soap, mealie-meal to washing powder from South Africa.
Tiger Brands’ products maintains a huge presence on the domestic market.
But some products banned over health fears arrive in Zimbabwe through smuggling hotspots.
Comesa’s Malawi-headquartered Competition Commission said four batches containing Purity Essentials Baby Powder/Purity & Elizabeth Anne’s Essentials Baby Powder and others contaminated with asbestos had been shipped into regional countries including Zimbabwe, by Johannesburg Securities Exchange-listed household goods dealer, Tiger Brands, which moved to recall them last week.
However, the bloc said Purity Essentials baby cornstarch powder or any other babycare products under the Purity brand were not among those affected.
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“The Comesa Competition Commission hereby notifies the general public that Tiger Brands Limited, South Africa has recalled certain batches of its Purity Essentials Baby Powder product,” the bloc said on Friday.
“This follows a detection of trace levels of asbestos in test samples from a batch of pharmaceutical-grade talc powder used as raw material in the production of the finished powder products,” the statement added.
“Tiger Brands has indicated that the recall is precautionary as the raw material with the detected trace levels of asbestos did not meet the company’s quality and safety standards. The commission has established from Tiger Brands that the recalled products are sold within the common market, specifically in the DRC, Eswatini, Seychelles, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The commission commends Tiger Brands for the proactive and cautious approach it has taken and wishes that other suppliers of consumer products act in a similar manner to ensure the health and safety of consumers is guaranteed,” said Comesa.
Several studies have indicated that talc powder contaminated with asbestos can result in cancer.
The International Agency for Research in Cancer, an agency of the World Health Organisation, classifies the perineal use of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
“The commission further wishes to advise any person who purchased and/or consumed the product and is unable to secure a refund or compensation, or who establishes that the recalled product is being sold in other countries of the common market, ” the statement added.
Tiger Brands revealed on Wednesday that: “In the best interest of consumers and as a precautionary measure, the company made the decision to initiate a product recall of the affected products after consultation with the National Consumer Commission.”
Product recalls are rare in southern Africa, but South African firms have been the most consistent in making sure toxic goods do not end up in people’s homes.
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