Fears of mad cow disease prompted Chinese customs authorities to seize 177 "suspect" cosmetic items imported from Britain, France, Italy and Japan.

An official told the Beijing Youth Daily that the items, from nine consignments, were all suspected of being contaminated with animal-based products banned in China over fears of the spread of BSE.

All the items are now undergoing "detailed examination".

From 20 April, a ban agreed upon last month will come into operation, affecting the import and sale of cosmetics from 18 countries, principally in Europe, where BSE has been found.

Cosmetics manufacturers in Europe have dispute the ban however, claiming that the animal products causing concern have been banned from use in cosmetics since the 1990s.