South Korea is planning to step up its customs inspections after the discovery of thousands of Chinese-made capsules filled with what officials said was powdered human flesh.
The Korea Customs Service said yesterday that since last August it has thwarted 35 attempts to smuggle about 17,450 such capsules into the country from China. The capsules were made from dead babies and infants in Jilin and other areas in north eastern China, the Korea Times reported.
The customs service said ethnic Koreans living in China tried to smuggle them into South Korea, as some believe that the capsules are a panacea for all forms of disease.
Last year, the Chinese government launched an investigation into the sale of dead foetuses and placentas to produce such capsules, mainly for sale to the Korean market. A health ministry spokesman, Deng Haihua, said at the time that the ministry would give the matter "a high degree of attention" and "resolutely crack down" on the practice. He instructed the health department in Jilin to start an investigation.
Mr Deng said there were strict rules for the disposal of foetal remains in accordance with funeral regulations and rules regarding the disposal of medical waste. Trading in human remains is strictly illegal.
Dried or ground placenta is also used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Placenta is believed to be full of protein and nutrients, and traditional doctors believe it can help improve the immune system, slow the ageing process and cure kidney problems, impotence and infertility.
The trading of placentas is also illegal, although there is a flourishing online trade despite warnings about the possible spread of disease. The Ministry of Health banned the trade of placentas in 2005. The China Daily reported how traders bought the products secretly from hospital staff and maternity clinics, who sold the placentas without the knowledge of the new mothers. Mothers are allowed pass on placentas if they wish.