The probe comes as the number of slimmers buying diet supplements from unregulated sources like the internet continues to grow in Korea, with such sales difficult to regulate, authorities say.
Of the 14 foreign slimming products tested by the Korea Consumer Agency (KCA), seven contained illegal substances, including sibutramine, an suspended antidepressant could cause strokes and heart failure, and sennoside, a diarrhoea remedy banned in food for its unpleasant long-term side effects.
Five of the seven products had already been recalled for in the US, Canada and Germany even though they were freely available over the internet.
Now aware of how easy it is for consumers to buy these supplements from overseas sources over the internet, the KCA has called for immediate measures to block their import into Korea.
Korea’s own weight-loss market is valued at KRW3,200bn (US$3.2bn) and is growing at a rate of more than 20% each year thanks to a high level of consumer confidence. But more convenience, lower prices and greater anonymity are seeing the online market growth to a point that one in three Korean consumers are now buying their diet products over the internet.
The KCA said it will work with the food ministry and customs service to find ways to make the import market safer by looking at ways to legislate to block online sales, and means to prevent the import of products that have been recalled in other countries.