South Korea has seized thousands of smuggled drug capsules filled with powdered human flesh and is strengthening customs inspections, officials said Monday.
The capsules were made in northeastern China from dead babies whose bodies were chopped into small pieces and dried on stoves before being turned into powder, a statement from the Korea Customs Service said.
Customs officials refused to disclose where the babies came from or who made the capsules, citing possible diplomatic friction with Beijing. Chinese officials have been cracking down on the production of such capsules since last year.
The customs office has discovered 35 smuggling attempts since August of about 17,450 capsules disguised as stamina boosters, and some people believe them to be a panacea for disease, the statement said. The capsules of human flesh, however, contained superbacteria and other harmful ingredients.
The smugglers told customs officials they believed the capsules were ordinary stamina boosters and did not know the ingredients or manufacturing process. Fake and altered drug and food items have been a serious problem in China.
Ethnic Koreans from northeastern China who now live in South Korea were intending to use the capsules themselves or share them with other Korean-Chinese, a customs official said. They were being carried in luggage or sent by international mail.
The capsules were all confiscated, but no one has been punished because the amount was deemed small and they weren't intended for sale, said the customs official, who requested anonymity, citing department rules.
China's State Food and Drug Administration and its Health Ministry did not immediately respond to questions faxed to them Monday. But the problem of treatments made from dead fetuses or newborns has been recurrent. Chinese media identify the northeastern provinces as the source of such products, especially Jilin which abuts North Korea.
The Jilin province food and drug safety agency is responsible for investigating the trade of such remains there. Calls to the agency and to the information office of Jilin's Communist Party were not answered Monday.
The South Korean agency began investigating after receiving a tip a year ago. No sicknesses have been reported from ingesting the capsules.