Spanish authorities have instigated an EU-wide response to hazardous toothpaste products originating from China, with the announcement that it is to withdraw certain brands from the Spanish market.
The European Commission announced this week that Spain is the latest in a long line of countries to retract two Chinese toothpaste products that have been deemed a threat to public health.
Following laboratory tests, two brands - Spearmint and Trileaf Spearmint - were removed from the oral hygiene market due to trace elements of DEG (diethylene glycol) being found, a substance used in antifreeze and solvents.
As the alert was registered on the Commission's RAPEX system, an EU wide Rapid Alert System for non-food dangerous products, other member states are now formally obliged to take follow up action on their own markets, and to inform the Commission about any action they have taken regarding the issue.
By alerting other member states to the hazard, Spain will no doubt instigate widespread EU testing on all toothpaste products - increasing the impact already felt on the Chinese oral care industry.
Indeed, following the announcement both Italian and Portuguese authorities have made market checks, and recalled certain products, according to the European Commission.
The move follows widespread concern across the US over the poisonous chemical in toothpastes, with the US Food and Drug Administration recently advising consumers to avoid buying any toothpaste labelled as made in China.
Previous reports have found that authorities in Panama, the Dominican Republic and Australia have found DEG, known to have been a source of a number of mass poisonings, usually from adulterated medicines, in toothpaste products.
The FDA recently called for a block on all consignments of toothpaste at US borders until tests show that such imports are categorically safe.
Because of international free trade agreements this means that consignments of imported Chinese toothpaste have been legally allowed into the US, but FDA officials are now particularly worried about gray market and counterfeit products that may have entered the country through illegal and unregulated channels.
The commission mirrored this, with EU consumer commissioner Meglena Kuneva stating, "The Commission urges consumers to not buy counterfeit products and to contact authorities in case of doubts. The EU RAPEX alert system has demonstrated its value in this case and has paved the way for a rapid EU-wide safety response prompted by the vigilance of the Spanish authorities".
Spanish authorites did concede that the products found pose only a moderate immediate risk for the health and safety of consumers.
"To date, there are no known reports of human poisonings or adverse clinical effects caused by this toothpaste. However, even this is an unacceptable risk. Also, in the light of the global scale of the issue, we are working closely with national authorities to address any potential risk seriously and in depth", said Kuneva.
Kuneva is due to travel to China at the end of the month as part of an on-going dialogue with the Chinese government to discuss a range of issues with the Chinese authorities - in particular issues relating to product safety.