Sugar as Health Functional Foods? South Korean regulator steps up online inspection against fake ads

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

South Korea's MFDS has warned against online ads marketing sugar as Health Functional Foods.  ©Getty Images
South Korea's MFDS has warned against online ads marketing sugar as Health Functional Foods. ©Getty Images

Related tags Sugar MFDS false advertising

There is an ongoing trend of processed sugar products being advertised as Health Functional Foods in South Korea, with products making fatigue recovery and blood sugar control claims sold on e-commerce platforms, warned the country’s food and drug safety regulator.

In January alone, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) had detected 138 cases of fake claims or exaggerated advertising concerning processed sugar products. They were found to have violated the “Act on Labelling and Advertising of Food”.

This was nearly 50 per cent of all the 280 online postings that it had inspected.

These advertisements promoted processed sugar products, such as those that were made using sugar, glucose, fructose, taffy, oligosaccharides, and honey, as the main ingredients and were made in the form of tablets and capsules.

Most of the issues detected were misleading advertisements, which made up 39.9 per cent of the cases.

This is followed by advertisements that were false and exaggerated (29 per cent), misleading consumers into thinking that the products could be used for disease prevention and treatment (15.2 per cent), advertisements that were deceiving (9.4 per cent), and those that could cause consumers to think that foods could serve as medicines (6.5 per cent). 

For example, there were products advertising processed sugar products as antioxidants and could help in fatigue recovery.

Others made claims related to biological functions, such as “making blood vessels elastic and soft” and “recovering deteriorated biological functions”.

Some of the advertisements also claimed that the products could prevent or treat diabetes or cancer or mislead consumers into thinking that the products are superior to other foods by using terms such as “superfood”.

The MFDS said that such terms have unclear health benefits and lacks sufficient scientific evidence.

The regulator said that it would continue to inspect illegal advertisements to safeguard consumer’s safety.

“The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety plans to continue to conduct intensive inspections on illegal activities such as false and exaggerated advertising to prevent damage to consumers and will do its best to strengthen online food safety management and create a distribution environment where the public can feel at ease,” ​it said.  

Last March, the regulator also clamped down on​ liquid tea sachets sold as Health Function Foods to elderly consumers.

These products claimed to contain expensive ingredients such as red ginseng, velvet antler, and Gastrodia elata ​– a herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat headache and dizziness. However, only trace amounts of these ingredients were detected in the products.

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