The Food and Drug Administration yesterday warned consumers not to use toothpaste made in China after finding tubes tainted with a poisonous chemical used in antifreeze and brake fluid.
The FDA said last week it was testing all imports of toothpaste from China for diethylene glycol after reports surfaced that Chinese toothpaste containing it had been exported to the Dominican Republic, Panama and Australia.
The agency yesterday also instituted an import alert to prevent the entry of toothpaste containing the deadly chemical into the U.S.
Officials said U.S. inspectors detained one shipment of toothpaste at the border and found and tested products at a distribution center in Los Angeles and at two stores -- a Miami Dollar Plus and a Todo A Peso in Puerto Rico.
The brands in question are not the big ones. These are cheap knockoffs that go by the name Cooldent and Superdent and Oral Bright, typically sold in dollar stores.
The big manufacturers, such as Colgate, a division Colgate-Palmolive, make their toothpaste elsewhere. The tube I have says "Made in Mexico".
I should have left it there. Instead, I decided to do a bit of checking, and now I'm worried. Made in Mexico? If so, why would this very senior Chinese official, Cheng Siwei, brag about Colgate toothpaste being made in China for export to the United States?
PAUL SOLMAN: We were here to interview one of China's current top leaders, Cheng Si-wei, an economist in the 2,000-year-old tradition of Confucian scholar politicians.
The author of 28 books, Vice Chairman Cheng is also known as the godfather of venture capital in China.
CHENG SIWEI: Yes. Some people told me, you know, average Americans, you know, they use actually now in their daily life, they use many cheap Chinese goods from morning to the evening; when they woke up, their blanket is made in China. When they wear shoes to go jogging, the shoes, Nike shoes, made in China.
PAUL SOLMAN: Nike.
CHENG SIWEI: Yes. And they use a toothbrush, it's made in China. The Colgate Toothpaste is made in China.
PAUL SOLMAN: Colgate Toothpaste is made in China?
CHENG SIWEI: Certainly. American people are really benefiting from cheaper Chinese goods.
That was in October 2005. Maybe that was once true, but is no longer true. Or maybe Siwei was lying, or just ignorant of where toothpaste used by Americans is made. Or maybe he's telling the truth -- that the toothpaste, or major components of the product, is manufactured in China and then repackaged or otherwise reworked in some way in Mexico as a final step, with Mexico therefore being identified as the country of manufacture.
Does Cheng Siwei know what he's talking about? He was Vice Minister of the Chemical Industry from 1994 through 1997, and is currently a vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the de facto legislative body of the People's Republic of China. He speaks with the authority of the Chinese government.
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