Online shopping malls are neglecting the steady increase in illegal foreign medicines and harmful health functional foods, an audit revealed.
The concern comes during a time where more and more Koreans are buying products through direct overseas purchase.
According to the Korea Customs Service, the number of direct overseas purchase for the past five years (2013 ~ 2017) has exceeded 83 million, and money spent for these purchases amounted to about 8.9 trillion won ($7.85 billion).
Rep. Kim Seung-hee of the opposition Liberty Korea Party disclosed an internal report submitted by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) for the parliament’s audit of the administration.
Kim’s office uncovered various cases where an online shopping mall sold health function foods categorized as harmful by the food and drug safety ministry.
The lawmaker also confirmed the illegal overseas direct purchase of pharmaceuticals such as nicotine gum sold on various online shopping platforms.
Korea classifies gum containing nicotine (quit smoking drug) as a drug. Therefore, under Article 50 of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law, it is illegal to sell the product outside of pharmacies.
“Nicotine gum is not the only product being sold online,” Kim said. “Other pharmaceuticals are illegally being sold on large online malls such as Interpark, Auction, G-Market, Coupang and 11st.”
Kim also stressed that online shopping malls are selling functional health food registered on the MFDS’ “Food Safety Korea” website as harmful.
The ministry inspects foreign food products through risk screening and lists them on the food block list and requests the customs authorities to ban certain products from entering the country.
However, Kim’s office confirmed that such product listed on the website were currently in circulation at major internet malls.
Korea currently has no laws to enforce the online markets to follow regulations as the current Electronic Commerce Law allows online malls not to take responsibility for trading within their website.
“The drugs whose safety have yet to be verified are brought into the domestic market by direct overseas purchase, which in turn, has put the national health safety at crises,” Kim said. “An amendment bill for the electronic commerce law is needed to eliminate the blind spot of national health safety resulting from direct overseas purchase.”
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