China said on Tuesday it had banned some cosmetic imports from 18 countries, mostly in Europe, because they were made from substances that could cause mad cow disease.
In Brussels the European Commission said it was surprised by the ban, imposed just one month after the EU halted certain Chinese meat and seafood products because it said they contained harmful antibiotics.
A Chinese Ministry of Public Health official said cosmetic producers in the 18 countries would have to prove their products were free from ingredients extracted from cow and sheep offal and tissue before they were approved for sale in China.
The ministry said in a joint statement with the Quarantine Bureau it had also ordered shops to remove the banned cosmetics from their shelves before April 20.
"The European Union exercises strict standards in applying these ingredients on cosmetics, but not for their exports," the ministry official said.
The countries affected were Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Germany, Portugal, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Liechtenstein, Oman, Japan, Slovakia, Finland and Austria, the statement said.
European Commission spokesman Per Haugaard said the EU executive was still evaluating the scope of China's move but it did not immediately not see the rationale behind it. He said EU standards on concerning Specified Risk Material (SRM) -- those animal parts deemed to have a high potential risk of transmitting mad cow disease -- applied to cosmetics production within the bloc, no matter where they were sold.
"As preliminary reaction, it's a surprise ... because such SRMs cannot be used in the production of cosmetics in the EU," Haugaard said.
Chinese officials estimated cosmetic sales from the affected countries at more than US$1 million a year.
Scientists have linked consumption of beef from animals infected with mad cow disease -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- to the spread of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease which has killed more than 100 people, mostly in Britain.
No one has been proven to have contracted the disease through using cosmetics made with animal products, but scientists believe there is a link between beef consumption and the spread of the disease.