China's product safety woes

China's product safety woes hit again with toothpaste and tire recalls, chemicals in food

BEIJING: China's grim product safety record took another hit Wednesday, with Japanese importers recalling toothpaste containing a chemical used in antifreeze — just after a U.S. company accused its Chinese partner of supplying faulty tires.

The same day, state media said inspectors had closed 180 food factories.

China's food safety watchdog said formaldehyde, illegal dyes, and industrial wax were being used to make candy, pickles, crackers and seafood, the official China Daily newspaper reported.

China is fighting to overcome intense criticism for exporting unsafe products ahead of next summer's Olympic Games in Beijing, a great source of national pride.

Chinese authorities have pushed for more stringent controls and increased publicity of their efforts to control the problem.

Chinese-made toothpaste has been rejected by several countries in North and South America and Asia, and Chinese wheat gluten tainted with the chemical melamine has been blamed for dog and cat deaths in North America.

Other products turned away or recalled by U.S. authorities include toxic fish, juice containing unsafe color additives and popular toy trains decorated with lead paint.

On Wednesday, three Japanese importers recalled millions of Chinese-made travel toothpaste sets, many sold to inns and hotels, after they were found to contain as much as 6.2 percent of diethylene glycol.

The same chemical triggered numerous recalls in other countries.

Diethylene glycol or DEG, utilized as a thickening agent in antifreeze, is also used as a low-cost — and sometimes deadly — substitute for glycerin, a sweetener in many drugs.

There were no reports of health problems stemming from the toothpaste. Chinese officials have said that tests carried out in 2000 by Chinese experts proved that toothpaste containing less than 15.6 percent DEG was harmless.

Meanwhile, U.S. regulators ordered Foreign Tire Sales Inc., of Union, New Jersey, to recall up to 450,000 tires after the company said an unknown number of light truck radials, imported from China's Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co., could suffer tread separation.

Foreign Tire Sales, which has imported such tires from the Chinese company since 2002, said an unknown number of the tires it sold were made without a safety feature, called a gum strip, which helps bind a tire's belts to each other.

Hangzhou Zhongce denied Wednesday that it supplied faulty products. In a statement, the company said its tires met U.S. safety standards and Foreign Tire Sales' specifications.

It accused the U.S. company of making the claim to gain an advantage in a commercial dispute.

A nationwide crackdown on shoddy and dangerous products, launched in December, uncovered the 180 factories that were using industrial chemicals in food production, the China Daily said.

"These are not isolated cases," said Han Yi, an official with the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

The admission by Han, director of the administration's quality control and inspection department, was significant because the agency has said in the past that safety violations were the work of a few rogue operators — a claim that is likely part of a strategy to protect China's billions of dollars (euros) of food exports.

Han said most of the offending manufacturers were small, unlicensed food plants with fewer than 10 employees, and all had been shut down.

The China Daily said 75 percent of the country's estimated 1 million food processing plants are small and privately owned.

According to Han, the continuing inspections are focusing on commonly consumed food such as meat, milk, beverages, soy sauce and cooking oil.

Rural areas and the suburbs — where standards are likely less strict — are still considered key areas for inspectors, he said.

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