Bribery claims feed milk scandal

Updated: 2013-10-22 07:24

By Zhao Xu, Peng Yining and Yang Yang (China Daily)

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Bribery claims feed milk scandal

Parents face confusing choices over brand safety and integrity, report Zhao Xu, Peng Yining and Yang Yang in Beijing.

Any public scandal related to food safety or children is bound to arouse strong emotions, but when it comes to infant milk formula, the impact is not simply doubled, but increased tenfold.

The truth of that statement has been demonstrated by a number of recent scandals in China that have not only embroiled some of the world's leading providers of infant formula, but have also put doctors, hospitals and those in positions of authority on trial.

In mid-September, China Central Television reported that the government in Tianjin had accused doctors and nurses at public hospitals of accepting bribes from Dumex, a French company that makes nutritional products for infants and children.

The payments were made to induce medical staff and hospital authorities to recommend the Dumex brand to new and expectant mothers.

The evidence was compelling and included documents detailing every payment and the names of the medical staff involved. The monthly outlay between January and July was around 300,000 yuan ($49,000), the government said.

Dumex, a household name that entered the Chinese market in the late 1990s, is a unit of Groupe Danone, a Fortune 500 company with a global presence. It has pledged management changes in the wake of the scandal.

Moreover, earlier this year, Danone's Nutricia Advanced Nutrition Unit instigated an internal investigation after it was also accused of bribing doctors in Chinese hospitals to boost sales of its formulas.

Not only has the long-cultivated prestige of these brands been hit hard, but the confidence of millions of Chinese consumers who believed in, and indeed almost seemed to worship, the products, has been destroyed.

The news came five years after China's own domestic baby milk scandal, when a brand of infant formula made by Sanlu Group of Hebei province was tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, ingestion of which can cause cancer at worst, but can also irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory systems.

At least six infants died as a result of ingesting the formula and thousands more were taken ill.

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