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China To Bolster Toothpaste Rules

China is stepping up controls on dental care products, state media reported Wednesday amid international alarm over Chinese toothpaste producers' use of a potentially toxic chemical found in antifreeze.

Countries in North and South America, as well as Asia have in recent months halted imports of Chinese-made toothpaste due to its content of diethylene glycol or DEG, a low-cost and sometimes deadly substitute for glycerin. However, there have been no reports of health problems stemming from the product.

China has no guideline banning the chemical in toothpaste, and the government says it is harmless in small amounts.

A set of "strict certification and evaluation procedures" are being drawn up for oral care products 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.

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

A spokeswoman for the administration, which oversees the certification of Chinese products, confirmed the regulations were being drawn up and said the administration had asked for public opinions last year. Like many Chinese bureaucrats, 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, U.S. authorities have also banned or turned away a long list of Chinese products, including toxic fish, juice containing unsafe color additives and popular toy trains decorated with lead paint.

Such actions have sparked fears that China's chronic domestic product safety problems were becoming a global scourge.

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 at first played down or ignored international concerns, and have reacted defensively by highlighting problems with imports from other countries.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang accused the media of playing up the food safety issue and warned that frequent food scare reports could lead to consumer panic.

However, the government seems to have realized that bringing its product safety standards in line with those of its international trading partners could help protect its future economic growth.

The state-run China Daily newspaper acknowledged Wednesday that Chinese food exports were at times rejected — not because the manufacturers violated guidelines, but because China's standards were lower than those of importing countries.

"This is not because the food itself was of low quality, but because the standards we use may be lower," the paper said in an editorial. "It is becoming increasingly urgent to raise the food safety standards to international levels."

Most recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would detain five kinds of Chinese seafood 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 offices to "fully understand the side effects and major loss of the U.S. decision to the Chinese seafood industry."

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

Observers say China faces an even greater challenge in improving its domestic food and product safety record.

China's food safety watchdog said Tuesday that 19.1 percent — 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 the northern province of Hebei, and in Fujian province in the south. 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 Web site said. It did not say how much over the limit the diapers were, or whether they had caused problems for any children.

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