Colgate warns of fake toothpaste in U.S.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Colgate-Palmolive Co. on Thursday warned counterfeit “Colgate” toothpaste that may contain a toxic chemical had been found in discount stores in four U.S. states.

People pass the entrance of Colgate-Palmolive World headquaters in New York City, in this August 31, 2003 file photo. Colgate-Palmolive Co. <CL.N> said on Thursday counterfeit toothpaste that may contain a toxic chemical had been found in discount stores in four U.S. states. REUTERS/Jeff Christensen

“There are indications that this product does not contain fluoride and may contain diethylene glycol,” the company said of the toothpaste found in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Colgate-Palmolive said it does not use, nor has ever used, diethylene glycol as an ingredient in its toothpaste anywhere in the world. The chemical, also known as DEG and sometimes illegally used as an inexpensive sweetener and thickening agent, is commonly found in solvents and antifreeze.

The counterfeit toothpaste is labeled as being manufactured in South Africa but Colgate-Palmolive said it does not import toothpaste to the United States from South Africa. The packaging also contains several misspellings.

Colgate did not immediately respond to an inquiry seeking details of which stores the counterfeit toothpaste was found in, or how it may have found its way into the United States.

The Colgate announcement comes almost two weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to avoid any toothpaste made in China after inspectors found DEG in tubes sold at two stores.

The FDA also issued an import alert aimed at preventing all toothpaste from three companies in China that make brands found to contain DEG from entering the United States.

The FDA has said it is not aware of any U.S. reports of poisonings from DEG-tainted toothpaste, but says the chemical has a “low but meaningful risk of toxicity and injury,” especially to children and people with kidney or liver disease.

Colgate-Palmolive said it was working closely with the FDA to identify those responsible for the counterfeit product.

Colgate is the leading toothpaste company, with 36 percent of the U.S. market in 2006, slightly ahead of Crest, a Procter & Gamble Co. brand, with 35.7 percent, according to Euromonitor data.

When the FDA issued its warning early this month, Crest said its toothpaste sold in the United States is all manufactured in North America. It also said Crest toothpaste sold in China is not manufactured by the companies under investigation.

A spokeswoman for Crest said on Thursday that counterfeit toothpaste is currently not an issue for the company.

The FDA issued its warning about Chinese toothpaste after seizing a batch found to contain 3 percent DEG. It said inspectors found DEG-containing toothpaste at a Dollar Plus store in Miami and at a store called Todo a Peso in Puerto Rico.

The FDA has identified products by Goldcredit International Enterprises Ltd., Goldcredit International Trading Co. Ltd., and Suzhou City Jinmao Daily Chemicals Co. Ltd as containing DEG under brands such as Cooldent, Clean Rite and ShiR Fresh.

DEG-contaminated toothpaste has also been seized in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Nicaragua. The sweet substance, sometimes used as a substitute for glycerin, was found in cough syrup in Panama that led to the deaths of at least 100 people last year.

Colgate, which also makes dish soap and pet food, earlier this year recalled two pet products manufactured by a Canadian company whose foods were found to contain contaminated wheat gluten imported from China and suspected in the deaths of cats and dogs.

Colgate shares were down 59 cents, or .9 percent, at $66.87 in afternoon trade on the New York Stock Exchange.