SEOUL and BEIJING — South Korean customs said it had confiscated more than 17,000 “health” capsules smuggled from China that contain human flesh, most likely extracted from aborted fetuses or stillborn babies.
The Chinese Ministry of Health said Tuesday it had been investigating allegations that capsules were being manufactured from human remains but had found no evidence.
The South Korean customs agency said pills had been smuggled into the country through parcels and luggage carried from China. The pills were composed of "ground stillborn fetus or babies that had been cut into small pieces and dried in gas ranges for two days, then made into powders and encapsulated," the report said.
"Flesh pills have been continuously smuggled into [South Korea], camouflaged as health tonics," the statement said. The pills came mostly from cities in northeastern China: Yanji, Jilin, Qingdao and Tianjin.
Forensic tests on pills marketed as “infant capsule” and “fetus powder” found a 99.7% match with human tissue, South Korean reports said.
Among some traditional healers in South Korea and China, fetuses and particularly placenta are believed to have medicinal properties.
"Human flesh pills are similar to a bizarre invigorate-seeking culture where people search for items such as seal's genitals and bear gall bladder in hopes for boosting one's stamina," Ha Il-hyun, a doctor at Seoul's Konkuk University Hospital, told the newspaper Chosun Ilbo. "If there's anyone who claims he benefited from the pill, it would only be a placebo effect."
The New China News Agency on Tuesday quoted a Health Ministry spokesman, Deng Haihua, saying that "China has strict rules on the disposal of the remains of dead infants, aborted fetuses and placentas, which are categorized as human remains and banned from being disposed of as medical waste."
"Medical institutions and their staff are forbidden to trade human remains, including placentas," the report added.
— Jung-yoon Choi reported from Seoul and Barbara Demick from Beijing