China punishes 13 medical workers for bribery in milk powder case

BEIJING Mon Oct 14, 2013 6:52am EDT

BEIJING Oct 14 (Reuters) - Chinese authorities in the northern city of Tianjin have punished 13 medical workers for taking bribes from Danone S.A. to recommend the French food maker's infant formula, the local government said on Monday.

The move comes after the official China Central Television (CCTV) reported in September that Danone bribed doctors and nurses to recommend its Dumex milk powder brand at one Tianjin hospital.

The CCTV report led to Tianjin's government and police launching an investigation into the bribery charges. Danone also said it had launched an investigation.

The "serious violators" received penalties ranging from cancellation of medical licences to salary deductions, Tianjin's government said in a statement on its website. Several of them had to go through Communist Party disciplinary procedures.

Athena Wang, the spokeswoman for Dumex China, told Reuters the company had no further comment, but reiterated that it had launched and completed an investigation.

Local government investigators said the workers were among 116 people from 85 hospitals and health groups who took bribes from Danone to give talks to parents of newborns, recommend Dumex formula and give out product samples, the statement said.

World Health Organization guidelines, implemented in China, say doctors must advise new mothers to breastfeed unless there are medical reasons to use formula instead.

Infant formula has been controversial in China since a scandal in 2008 when the industrial chemical melamine was added to baby milk and killed at least six children and left thousands ill.

The incident seriously damaged consumer confidence in local firms and led to international competitors gaining market share.

Corruption is widespread in the the health care system, fuelled in part by low salaries for doctors and nurses. (Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan and Adam Rose; Edited by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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