Consumers are expressing outrage after the National Committee of Oral Health (NCOH) admitted that it has no legal right to certify the quality of oral health products.
"Except anger, I have no other feelings to express about the case," said Fan Muxue, a postgraduate student in Communication University of China.
"The committee has cheated consumers for more than 10 years. I will not buy its certified oral products any more."
On the list of NCOH's certification are many popular oral health products, such as Crest and Liangmianzhen, and Lotte Xylitol Gum toothpastes.
But NCOH cannot be found on another list of legal institutes authorized by China's Certification and Accreditation Administration.
In February, a Shanghai lawyer, Chen Jiang, filed a lawsuit against the NCOH and three other oral health producers for misleading consumers. He cited two reasons: illegality of certification and accreditation of NCOH and the bribery deals between NCOH and the certificated, People's Daily reported. The case is still ongoing.
Zhang Boxue, vice-director of NCOH, said that his committee had rich experience in certificating oral health products with strict and scientific measures.
But Jiangsu Snow Leopard Household Chemical CO Ltd, a toothpaste producer which got the certification and accreditation from NCOH, told Beijing Times that when NCOH carried on the certification, it picked the toothpaste samples directly from the factory stock, not from the market randomly.
And the 160 people who attended the experiment were only from an oral medical school. Everyone got a tube of toothpaste of this brand. After three months, they came for the first examination. The second product testing came six months later. It was hard to confirm whether they had used that toothpaste during that period.
Then NCOH drew the conclusion that the Snow Leopard toothpaste could effectively help prevent gingivitis.
In another case, when the NCOH certified Lotte Xylitol Gum toothpaste in 2005, the company gave full financial support to the job of certification and accreditation. So Chen suspects that the certification was the result of bribery.
NCOH also set up a foundation for holding some oral health education programmes. The foundation was reported to have received large sums of donations from oral health producers. The biggest donation, 10 million yuan (US$1.25 million), was from the P&G Group. And Beijing Times also reported that in the contract between NCOH and the Snow Leopard Household Chemical Co Ltd, the company needed to donate 100,000 yuan (US$12,500) to the foundation annually.
Although Zhang said that all the funds were and will be used in education or other public interest programmes, he could not provide the audit report.
The NCOH was set up in November 2003 under the approval of the Ministry of Health for promoting oral health among the public. Although Zhang said the committee had 55 members of experts and officials, none of them are full time.
"I think the country should strengthen its management on such institutes," said Luo Yuan, an English teacher in Nanjing University of Technology.
"Now there are too many so-called experts, especially in ads. It is to sway and persuade consumers."
(China Daily April 10, 2006)