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China Plans New Oral Care Regulations
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China is crafting new safety rules for oral care products, apparently propelled by international alarm over toothpaste producers' use of a chemical found in antifreeze.

Numerous countries have stopped imports of Chinese-made toothpaste in recent months for containing diethylene glycol, or DEG, which is also used as a low-cost -- and sometimes deadly -- substitute for glycerin, a sweetener in many drugs.

A set of "strict certification and evaluation procedures" are being drawn up by China's Health Ministry and the China Certification and Accreditation Administration, the China News Service said, citing an announcement made during a national symposium. No other details were given.

Last month, the Health Ministry's spokesman, Mao Qun'an, said at least two new regulations were being considered focusing on certification and inspection standards.

The administration's website said the new rules would "improve the quality, safety and hygiene of oral health care products."

A spokeswoman from the administration, which oversees certification of Chinese products, confirmed the regulations were being drawn up and said the administration had asked for public opinions last year. She declined to give her name.

Worries over the safety of Chinese exports began earlier this year when the deaths of dogs and cats in North America were linked to pet food containing Chinese wheat gluten tainted with the chemical melamine.

Since then, US authorities have also banned or turned away a long list of Chinese products, including fish, juice and popular toy trains decorated with lead paint. 

Countries in North and South America, as well as Asia, have banned Chinese-made toothpaste because of its DEG content, although there have been no reports of health problems stemming from the product.

Chinese officials have said tests carried out in 2000 by Chinese experts proved that toothpaste containing less than 15.6% DEG was harmless.

Other major buyers such as Japan and the European Union have pushed Beijing to improve inspections as its goods make their way through global markets.

Chinese authorities have vowed stronger safety measures. China's food safety watchdog said Tuesday that 19.1%, about one-fifth, of products made for domestic consumption were found to be substandard in the first half of 2007. Canned and preserved fruit and dried fish were the most problematic, primarily because of excessive bacteria and additives, the agency said.

Though the survey covered many different products, it focused on food, common consumer goods, farming machinery and fertilizers.

In a related development, China's Ministry of Health announced Wednesday a recall of two brands of diapers made by manufacturers in north China's Hebei Province and south China's Fujian Province. It did not say if the diapers had been exported but said the brands were popular in rural areas.

A spot check of rural shopping centers revealed that batches of infant diapers sold under the brand names Haobeir and Jinglianbangshuang contained excessive amounts of fungus, a statement posted to the central government's official website said. It did not say how much over the limit the diapers were or whether they had caused any children to become ill.

Meanwhile, a top quality official defended the safety of exported food.

"Ninety-nine percent of food exported to the United States was up to safety standards over the past two years, which is a very high percentage," Li Yuanping, who is in charge of imported and exported food safety, was quoted as saying by the Xinhua News Agency.

Most recently, the US Food and Drug Administration said it would detain Chinese catfish, basa and dace, as well as shrimp and eel after repeated testing turned up contamination with drugs that have not been approved in America for use in farmed seafood.

In response, China's quality administration issued a number of new measures designed to ensure the quality of exported farmed seafood, telling its local bureaus to "fully understand the side effects and major loss of the US decision to the Chinese seafood industry."

In addition to stepped-up inspections and quarantine, the agency said it would post on its website the names of companies that violate regulations and ban them from export activities for two years.

(China Daily July 6, 2007)

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