South Korean customs officials are investigating capsules reportedly filled with powdered human flesh from dead infants, aborted fetuses and placental remains that are being smuggled in from China.
Since August 2011, more than 17,000 such capsules have been smuggled into the country, the Korea Customs Service told the BBC.
The contraband pills are believed to cure certain diseases and increase stamina, though officials said the capsules were filled with bacteria and posed a health risk.
It was confirmed those capsules contain materials harmful to the human body, such as super bacteria. We need to take tougher measures to protect public health, a customs official told the Korea Times, according to a translation from the BBC.
China's Health Ministry announced Monday that it is investigating claims that the pills are being produced in the country's northeast with assistance from medical professionals.
Health Ministry spokesperson Deng Haihua said China requires medical facilities to properly dispose of infant and fetal remains, including placentas, and that any trade in them is strictly prohibited, state media outlet the China Daily reported.
Most capsules were discovered in small amounts in travelers' luggage or in postal packages, and were believed to be intended for personal consumption and not for sale, customs officials said.
While consuming human flesh remains a universal taboo in most parts of the world, consumption of the human placenta is believed to provide certain health benefits not only in traditional Eastern medicine, but in various parts of the world, including the U.S.
Black markets in China, however, have also been known to traffic in numerous illegal and controversial folk remedies such as rhino horns and tiger bones.