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 China hopes HK lifts toothpaste recall

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PostSubject: China hopes HK lifts toothpaste recall   Fri Jun 15, 2007 3:48 am

China hopes HK lifts toothpaste recall
By AUDRA ANG, Associated Press Writer

BEIJING - China is urging Hong Kong to resume the sale of three brands of Chinese toothpaste containing a chemical found in antifreeze, saying the small amounts involved were harmless to people.

Hong Kong's ban was the latest in a slew of recalls and warnings linked to Chinese toothpaste. The United States, New Zealand, Singapore, Panama and several other Latin American and Caribbean countries have taken similar actions.

Hong Kong's health department warned consumers earlier this week not to use toothpaste sold under the names Maxam Toothpaste with Fluoride, Sanqi and Tianqi.

A notice on the government's Web site said the brands contained diethylene glycol, or DEG, at levels ranging from 0.21 percent to 7.5 percent.

Daily use could lead to an absorption rate that is "above the tolerable level" set by the European Union, the notice said.

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

Responding to Hong Kong, China's main food safety body claimed low levels of the chemical have been deemed safe for consumption.

Tests carried out in 2000 by Chinese experts on 1,695 people had proved that "toothpaste containing less than 15.6 percent of diethylene glycol, a tolerable amount, is harmless for humans," the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in a statement on its Web site late Thursday.

Hong Kong customs also has been asked to submit a report on "how and why it called back the toothpaste," the statement said.

Telephones rang unanswered at the Chinese administration on Friday.

Zhang Jilai, a sales manager at Kunming Toothpaste Co. Ltd. which makes the Sanqi brand, said Friday that the company last year stopped making the product banned in Hong Kong. Zhang would give no details.

"Our company's toothpaste is absolutely safe," he said.

A woman who answered the telephone at the Wuzhou Chemical Factory of Daily Use, which makes Tianqi toothpaste, said sales had been affected in some areas, but also claimed the company's products were safe. She said she worked at the deputy manager's office, and would give only her surname, Wang.

Calls rang unanswered at the Shanghai Toothpaste Factory Co. Ltd., which manufactures Maxam toothpaste.

Hong Kong's Department of Health said the recall was being handled by the Customs and Excise Department.

Customs spokeswoman Agnes Lau said that an official response was still being prepared, and that she had no immediate comment.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 but maintains its own government and legal system.

China has been battling in recent months with growing international alarm over the safety of its food and drug exports, after Chinese wheat gluten tainted with the chemical melamine was blamed for dog and cat deaths in North America.

Products turned away by U.S. inspectors include toxic monkfish, frozen eel and juice made with unsafe color additives.

Chinese quality officials have ordered tightened surveillance and punishment of safety violators, and say they will launch the country's first recall system by the end of the year.

In an apparent effort to boost confidence in those efforts, officials this week gave Chinese and foreign reporters a tour of a food safety test lab.

They were shown room after room of counterfeit food, drugs and other branded products confiscated in raids.

Li Changjiang, head of the quality inspection administration, said it was important to ensure the safety of construction materials, food and equipment for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a source of great national pride.

Also Thursday, the administration said that 10 percent of rice dumplings made by 133 producers nationwide failed tests because they contained excessive amounts of food additives.

The dumplings, popular during China's coming Dragon Boat Festival, are made of glutinous rice, often filled with red bean paste and usually wrapped in bamboo leaves.

The tests showed that the leaves contained high amounts of copper sulfate or copper chloride, normally used to make the leaves bright green.

State media reported a similar problem last year.

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