The Korea Herald


Meat preservative added to list of 'suicide hazardous materials' in Korea

By Lee Sun-young

Published : Dec. 24, 2023 - 16:01

    • Link copied

Sodium nitrite crystals in a bottle (W. Oelen) Sodium nitrite crystals in a bottle (W. Oelen)

Sodium nitrite, commonly found in sausages and other processed meats as a preservative, has recently been added to the list of “suicide hazardous materials” in South Korea as the country seeks to address increasing instances in which this food additive was used for self-harm.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the listing blocks the online sale and distribution of the white powdery substance, which can be lethal in doses as small as 4 to 6 grams, for suicide purposes. A violation can be punished with up to 2 years in prison and a fine of up to 20 million won ($15,344).

The move comes as the lethal potential of sodium nitrite, coupled with its high accessibility, attracted the attention of authorities around the world with high-profile cases like the one involving Canadian chef Kenneth Law.

Law was accused of running an online business selling suicide kits containing sodium nitrite to vulnerable people across the world. It was reported in Korea in May that all four Korean recipients of the packages had died.

According to police, South Korea has seen an increase in sodium nitrite-related suicides in recent years, from none in 2017 to 46 in 2021.

Designation of suicide hazardous materials began in 2020 in South Korea for tighter management of items that are frequently used, or are likely to be used, as a means of suicide.

The initial list included charcoal briquettes used for carbon monoxide and various types of pesticides. In January, several prescription drugs that can cause poisoning, if overdosed, were added, led by the sleep-inducing Zolpidem.

If you’re thinking about self-harm or suicide, contact the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s helpline on 1393, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please request a translator for English-language services.