Legislative battle over cosmetics regulations may not be pretty

Industry and public health groups are gearing up for a fight over the regulation of cosmetics, as the House begins consideration of sweeping Food and Drug Administration legislation.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a legislative hearing on an FDA user fee authorization draft bill in the coming weeks. The draft, only parts of which are available now, will include language to address how the FDA regulates cosmetics, said Debbee Keller, a spokeswoman for the committee.

"In addition to ensuring patients have access to these lifesaving and life-improving drugs and devices, this legislation will improve predictability, consistency and transparency, which will help support patients, jobs and innovation," Keller said. "The discussion draft, which is a starting-off point, does include a provision that would change FDA's regulation of cosmetics."

Public health advocates are pressing the committee to include legislation from Democratic Reps. Ed Markey (Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) that includes several new measures to ensure the safety of cosmetics ingredients.

Industry, led by the Personal Care Products Council, is working toward less "burdensome" language that it says also addresses public health concerns.


Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) is expected to draft the cosmetics language for the bill, according to committee sources. His office did not respond to requests to comment.

The draft language, which will amend the 1938 Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, comes amid numerous news reports of harmful chemicals in consumer goods, including formaldehyde in hair products, lead found in lipstick and imported face creams containing mercury.

"There is a war on women happening every day in salons across the country, where salon workers and their clients are being exposed to harmful cancer-causing chemicals, and the U.S. government is powerless to do anything about it," said Erin Switalski of Women's Voices for the Earth. "Current laws are incapable of protecting consumers and salon workers."

Last month, 50 business and 50 environmental groups urged the committee to create a safety standard for cosmetics, phase out ingredients linked to cancer or other toxicity and require full disclosure of ingredients -- all tenets of the Democrats' "Safe Cosmetics Act" (H.R. 2359).

That effort came after President Obama proposed an additional $19 million in new fees that domestic and foreign cosmetics manufacturers would pay annually. The money would go to FDA's testing and screening of cosmetics (E&E Daily, March 1).

Industry, however, expects the House bill to move in a slightly different direction.

John Hurson, executive vice president of governmental affairs at the Personal Care Products Council, said he believes the language will include two basic tenets.

First, the language will likely make a currently voluntary FDA ingredient reporting program mandatory for manufacturers.

Second, the "language would create a way for stakeholders to get rulings from FDA on the safety of ingredients in a specific language," he said.

"From a business standpoint, that gives business predictability," Hurson said. "If there is a question about the safety of an ingredient, we want that question resolved."

Hurson insisted that the goals of those tenets and the Democrats' bill are the same. However, the Democratic legislation comes at the situation "from a position that every ingredient is suspect" and, consequently, FDA needs to review them all, he said.

That approach, he said, is "much more overbearing and burdensome."

An industry-backed alternative would require FDA to study a chemical if a concern has been raised, he said.

Public health groups would not support such a measure, insisting that the language should go further.

"It's missing the most important elements needed to protect public health, such as phasing out cancer-causing chemicals -- and other harmful chemicals -- from cosmetics, requiring full disclosure of ingredients so consumers and workers know what chemicals they are being exposed to, and a uniform FDA safety standard," said Janet Nudelman of the Breast Cancer Fund.

There is also some concern among public health groups that there will be little consideration of alternatives to the cosmetics language ending up in the draft bill.

"We are watching this closely to make sure it's not a smoke-and-mirrors process and that any new cosmetics legislation eliminates the most harmful chemicals from cosmetics and respects consumers' right to know what chemicals we're putting on our bodies," said Stacy Malkan of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Markey said he welcomed the discussion over cosmetics regulations.

"Now is the time for legislation that closes the gaping hole in our federal laws that allows potentially dangerous chemicals to remain in the personal care and cosmetics products we use every day," Markey said in a statement to E&E Daily. "The Safe Cosmetics Act contains common sense provisions to protect consumer health: remove ingredients in personal care products that are carcinogenic and disclose all ingredients on product labels so consumers know what they are purchasing."

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