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South Korea Cracks down on Sales of Baby Formulas that use False Advertising

MFDS revealed that over 400 infant formulas have been sold online using illegal advertisements. The relevant webpages will be blocked by MFDS, and the business entities in violation would be punished with administrative penalties.

Since January 1, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) had inspected 1,099 infant formula sold online and on August 27, 2020 released the inspection result. [1] In the MFDS notification, 479 issues were identified to be in violation of food advertising requirements.

South Korea is promoting breastfeeding infant formula and bans advertisements of infant formula. The labels and claims on infant formulas are required to undergo a voluntary review before being sold. Additionally in South Korea, infant formula is categorized as livestock products. It is forbidden to advertise livestock products or any other general food as health functional food or with effects in preventing any disease as stipulated in Labeling and Advertising of Foods [2].

Prohibition of False Labeling & Advertising

(Article 8 of Act on Labeling and Advertising of Foods)

 

The ban on false labeling or advertising includes:

(1) Labeling or advertising food to mislead consumers into believing that the food is effective in preventing, treating, or curing any disease;

(2) Labeling or advertising food to mislead consumers into believing that the food is a drug;

(3) Labeling or advertising a food mislead consumers into believing that the food is a functional health food;

(4) Labeling or advertising food in a false or exaggerated manner;

(5) Labeling or advertising food in a deceptive manner;

(6) Labeling or advertising any company or its product in a slanderous manner;

(7) Labeling or advertising a company or its food, by means of false comparison with another business entity or its food without objective evidence;

(8) Labeling or advertising in a manner that seriously disturbs public order or social morality using an expression which encourages speculation or is obscene;

(9) Labeling or advertising without a review as required.

MFDS outlined illegal advertising practices against the above requirements:

  1. Failing to conduct a voluntary review of labeling or advertising before selling infant formula.

  2. Labeling infant formula inconsistent with the result of the voluntary review.

  3. Claiming the infant formula with effects to prevent or treat disease, such as "to cure constipation (Figure 1)"

  4. Indicating the infant formula is a health functional food, each as "helpful to improve immunity," “capable of improving intestinal tract function (Figure 1)”, etc.

  5. Deceptive advertising such as “formulated with ingredients most similar to breast milk components (Figure 2)”.

  

1.jpg

(Figure 1. Claiming the infant formula with medicine and functional effects)

 

2.png

(Figure 2. Deceptive advertising)

These webpages selling infant formulas would be blocked. Furthermore, these business entities who are in violation with current regulations could be faced with one or more of the following administrative penalties as stated in Standards for Prohibited Food Labeling and Advertising [3].

  1. Suspension of the business licenses for more than two months;

  2. Revocation of the business licenses or registration;

  3. The shutdown of the business places;

  4. Fines. 


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