Chinese establishments that sell imported cosmetics which might spread mad cow disease have less than one month to clear their shelves of the potentially deadly products.
The Ministry of Health and the State General Administration of Quality Supervision and Inspection and Quarantine issued a statement early this month to ban the import and sale of such cosmetics before April 20.
At present, many shops still stock cosmetics containing cattle or sheep brain tissues, nerve tissue, internal organs, placenta, blood or their extracts from dozens of countries and regions where mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE) has been found.
Enterprises that have already imported cosmetic products containing such components are urged to immediately report them to the health authorities and withdraw.
Some large department stores claim they have already withdrawn the imported cosmetics.
In North Star Shopping Centre, only Lan Ono, a cosmetic brand from Australia which is famous for its wool oil cosmetics and is free of mad cow disease, is on sale.
However, in many small and medium-sized markets in Beijing and other cities, such cosmetics are reportedly still flourishing.
Some market managers claim they are waiting for a list of the banned cosmetics before clearing their shelves, as they do not know which ones should be pulled.
Consumers are also waiting for such a list to know which cosmetics to avoid.
The Ministry of Health will distribute a list. However, it will not be until after April 20, according to Zhang Yinfa, a ministry official.
The ministry will also check a list of cosmetics it previously approved to see which of them contain suspected tissues, he added.
"It will be a hard task because there are nearly 10,000 imported cosmetics already approved in China,'' said Zhang.
To some, the ban will not make much difference to consumers and enterprises.
For example, Meng Jun, deputy manager of the cosmetics sale department in Beijing Xidan Plaza, said the majority of marketable cosmetics are made of plant tissues -- a fashion in the cosmetic industry -- and, therefore, the ban will not have a great influence on the sale of cosmetics.
Before the list comes out, consumers should remain cautious when buying cosmetics, and check products' contents, experts suggest.
In China, cosmetics imported legally and sold have Chinese characters displaying their contents and usage.
Since the first case of mad cow disease was detected in Britain in 1985, BSE cases have cropped up in many European countries, including Ireland, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Denmark, Italy, Spain, the Principality of Liechtenstein, the Slovak Republic, Finland and Austria.
(People's Daily March 26, 2002)