The recent scare over tainted toothpaste imported from China is forcing US authorities to mount pressure on the China government to impose restrictions and increase vigilance over imports of gray market goods that continue to flood North America.
The FDA is currently imposing a trade block on all imports of toothpaste from China, following a number of consignments found in Australia, Panama and the Dominican Republic and containing diethylene glycol, a compound used in anti-freeze and known to have been a source of a number of mass poisonings, often from adulterated medicines.
The scandal has highlighted growing international concern over trading regulations in China, where a lack of regulation is blamed for a huge market in counterfeit and gray market goods for a range of consumer goods.
This threat is also significant in the personal care sector, where products that often contain inferior quality ingredients and consequently lacking claimed effectiveness are finding their way onto the market with increasing frequency.
With GDP in China continuing to grow at in excess of 10 per cent, the trouble for regulatory authorities is trying to stay one step ahead of the huge increase in industrial output.
Much of this increase in output has centered around the food, pharmaceutical and personal care industry, and a significant amount of that increase is filtering into the Western markets, often ending up in the hands of illegal traders in the European Union and North America.
The problem is that, because these products are not regulated and they are often of inferior products, the risks to the consumers are significant. And when this includes products that are orally or topically applied, health and safety becomes a major issue.
In China food and personal care scares are a fairly regular occurrence, but with the volume of unchecked exports growing by the day, stories like the tainted pet food ingredients that reached the US from China back back in March and ended up killing dozens of animals, are likely to become more numerous.
Worse still was the recent scare over tainted Chinese cough medicine, imported into Panama, resulting in the deaths of 50 people to date.
With the FDA currently imposing a block on all toothpastes from China, any further incidences could lead to even more widespread bans on products imported into China.
The problem is that, with the huge growth in the China economy showing no signs of abating and the government not appearing to take any significant steps to regulate it, it seems like the onlly way to avoid the threat to consumer safety will be to impose tougher trade regulations.