South Korea Steps Up Fight Against Human Flesh Pills From China

Laurie Burkitt, with contributions from Min-sun Lee/Wall Street Journal Blog

Since August, Korean authorities have discovered nearly 17,500 of the human flesh capsules in the luggage of tourists and in international mail, the state-run Korea Customs service said in a statement Monday. The pills, disguised as performance enhancement drugs, have been smuggled in by ethnic Koreans living in northern Chinese cities and contain so-called super bacteria that is hazardous to human health, the statement said.

South Korea’s crackdown on the drugs began last year after SBS, one of the nation’s major television broadcasters, ran a documentary accusing Chinese pharmaceutical companies of collaborating with abortion clinics to make pills allegedly made of human fetuses and the remains of dead infants. The documentary claimed that DNA tests verified that the pills were made from powdered humans.

China’s Ministry of Health launched an investigation into the drugs’ origins last August, according to the state-owned China Daily. Representatives from the Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Demand for the pills has been driven by the belief that the fetus is a “tonic” for disease, the China Daily cited the documentary as saying. Consumption of human placentas is more common in China, where it is believed to help revive blood supply and circulation, according to the China Daily report. A report in the Global Times, a tabloid published by the official People’s Daily, said the human flesh pill were used to enhance sexual performance.

The Korean customs announcement comes less than a month after China’s drug regulators announced the suspension of sales of 13 drugs (11 Chinese traditional medicines and two antibiotics) after finding they were encased in gelatin capsules that contained excessive levels of chromium. According to China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, the toxic drug capsules were believed to originate from factories in China’s coastal Zhejiang province and had been made using scraps of leftover leather.

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