China says no to "Toxic Chinese Toothpaste Incident"

UPDATED: 09:57, June 20, 2007

On June 11th, claiming that 0.21%-7.5% diethylene glycol was found in three brands of toothpaste made in Chinese mainland (i.e. MAXAM, Sanqi and Tianqi), Hong Kong Customs urged local consumers not to use these three brands of products, and notified sales companies and retailers to recall these products. China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, in turn, responded on June 14th with hope that Hong Kong Customs can properly handle this matter, and restore sales of these products in Hong Kong.

Chinese-made toothpastes have run into trouble for some time now. This issue has triggered a wide-range of concerns at home and abroad. On June 1st, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued import alerts, in which it claimed that a 4% content of diethylene glycol (DEG) was detected in Chinese-made toothpastes and warned its customers against the use of toothpaste made in China. Meanwhile, the FDA is maintaining a hold on Chinese toothpaste products. Are Chinese-made toothpastes really toxic? What is the current situation? Reporters hereupon have conducted an in-depth interview.

"DEG" content harmless to human body

After the "toxic toothpaste incident" broke out, the Ministry of Health called on experts to assess the dangers of DEG. The results showed that DEG is low-toxicity chemical substance. It is discharged immediately after entering human body. There is neither significant accumulation nor evidence that demonstrates that it is carcinogenic, teratogenic, or mutagenic.

Information from China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine show that according to Article 21 (21CFR172.820) of the United States "Federal Code", DEG is allowed in polyethylene glycol as food additives. The United States Food and Drug Administration also said in a statement that, so far, relevant reports demonstrating the toxicity of toothpaste containing DEG do not exist. China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine, has urged the United States to take a scientific perspective, clarify the facts, and deal with the issue properly, and as soon as possible.

According to a related official of the State General Administration of Quality Supervision, the General Administration contacted Hong Kong Customs just after the incident broke out, and asked Hong Kong Customs to provide detailed information of the measures it has taken to deal with the three brands of Chinese toothpaste products, as well as the scientific and legal basis of each measure taken. In addition, it also informed Hong Kong Customs of the results of the assessment conducted by the Ministry of Health on the toxicity of DEG in Chinese toothpaste products.

"The incident has not had much of an impact on China's toothpaste industry," a related member of the China Oral Care Industry Association (COCIA) said in an interview. In fact, DEG is not widely used in China's toothpaste industry. The quantity of DEG actually used is also controlled according to safety regulations. However, some enterprises are worried that this incident will affect the export of commonly used products.

Stringent safety standards to be established

China has kept a close eye on the quality of its toothpaste products. The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, beginning in 2006, adopted a toothpaste product market access system. However, a toothpaste manufacturing engineer, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that in China today, there is only an enterprise standard for DEG content level; a national standard does not exist. Along with the development of the industry, toothpaste contents have increased. In contrast, the existing technical standards for production are oversimplified.

In this regard, famous oral expert and professor of the No.4 Military Medical University, Shi Junnan, spoke of his personal experience. In one of the experiments he once conducted, Shi found out that when the concentration of the foam component, SDS, an ingredient that exists in many toothpaste products, exceeds 0.01%, it will be significantly toxic to periodontal ligament cells. However, when corresponding national standards do not exist, these results have thus far not aroused people's attention.

Experts point out that China should "say no" to the "toxic toothpaste incident". However, on the other hand, this is also a lesson suggesting that China should improve national standards for toothpaste production. In particular, it needs to conduct timely and strict security and toxicological tests for potentially harmful ingredients. In this way, the country can both prevent providing others with a pretext for boycotting, and strengthen the trust of domestic consumers in Chinese-made toothpaste.

By People's Daily Online


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