A global consumer group's concerns over the lack of an international standard for synthetic latex condoms found little support at the recently held fifth annual International Latex Conference, which brings together a number of glove and condom makers, suppliers, and other latex goods manufacturers.
The organization, London-headquartered Consumers International, wants a global testing standard implemented that at least equals those currently on the books for latex condoms.
Representatives from Consumers International were among the approximately 150 delegates present at a mid-July International Organization for Standardization conference in Malaysia, where some attendees discussed a global testing standard for synthetic condoms.
``We clearly need an international standard for synthetic contraceptives at least as stringent as the one we have for latex,'' Sadie Homer, standards officer for the organization, said after the meeting. A global standard forces manufacturers to conform to a uniform rule, she said. Currently a worldwide standard does not exist, she added, and condom makers must only conform to national standards, which some countries don't have.
Lillie C. Thomas, vice president of operations and quality assurance at condom manufacturer Custom Services International Inc., said the group is sensationalizing the issue. ``ASTM International has passed a standard on synthetic condoms,'' said Thomas, who serves on the ASTM committee that issued the rule.
Until recently, only one brand of synthetic latex condom was on the market, she said at the latex conference. Now there are three, two of which are made from polyurethane, but they aren't any less safe than latex contraceptives.
``It depends on who's using them,'' she said. ``Those using them in a traditional manner will break them less often than those who don't. So it all depends on the conditions.'' CSI does not make the synthetic variety.
Several other manufacturers echoed her sentiments.
While ASTM does have a ruling on its books, it's not recognized as an international standard, according to Eli Carter, director of Durham, N.C.-based Family Health International, a non-profit research institute. But he agrees with Thomas on the issue.
Carter also serves on an ISO committee that is putting together a global standard for synthetics. Two other standards exist for the product, in New Zealand and France, but neither has been well received by condom makers thus far.
``We've had four meetings so far on this issue,'' he said. ``At the last meeting, when we made some decisions, there was a representative (from the consumers organization) there and he may have interpreted what we're discussing as a less stringent ruling than what they wanted and passed that information along to the organization. But that is premature because nothing has been decided.
``We're still in the discussion stage and it's hard to reach a consensus this early'' because more than 100 attended the meeting-including participants from the three major manufacturers of synthetic condoms and other condom makers. ``We have about 40 people on the working group all representing the major players,'' he added.
Because of that, it will probably take another 18 months to two years to finalize a standard, Carter said. ``We'll meet to discuss it next summer. But I don't think we'll resolve the issue then. Ultimately, we'd like to have a standard as stringent or more so than latex.''
Most of the synthetics currently being marketed work well, Carter said, ``but there's only a small market for them. There are several other products that have been cleared by the (Food and Drug Administration) but are not on the market,'' he said.