Tianjin Infant Formula Scandal Raises Public Concern

  • January 13, 2014
  • Editor: Tracy Zhu
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Tianjin Infant Formula Scandal Raises Public Concern
In September 2013, China Central Television (CCTV) reported that French company Danone, which markets its infant formula under the brand Dumex, gave kickbacks to medical staff at the Tianjin Central Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology to feed newborn babies its infant formula products so that the babies would develop a taste for the product. [jgospel.net]
In September 2013, China Central Television (CCTV) reported that French company Danone, which markets its infant formula under the brand Dumex, gave kickbacks to medical staff at the Tianjin Central Hospital of Obstetrics and Gynecology to feed newborn babies its infant formula products so that the babies would develop a taste for the product.

The CCTV news report also published a list of the sums of money transferred from the company to the hospital and other medical institutions, as well as names of the doctors and nurses involved.

The bribes given to each nurse or doctor ranged from several hundred yuan to 10,000 yuan (US$1,647), with a total monthly kickback to each hospital reaching around 300,000 yuan (US$49,410).

The news immediately sparked outrage across the country as people criticized infant formula companies for making illegal money off newborns.

Dumex China's Response

Dumex China said in a statement immediately after the CCTV report that it "pays great attention to and is extremely shocked by the CCTV report" and "will immediately launch an investigation into it".

"Dumex Baby Food Co., Ltd strictly adheres to Chinese laws and regulations, including Administrative Measures for Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. We have set up a strict management system, including severe punitive measures against all violations," the statement continued.

China's Laws and Regulations on Infant Formula

In China, companies are not allowed to give samples or products of infant formula to hospitals or offer them money or other inducements to promote their products, according to the Administrative Measures for Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes issued in 1995.

In 2011, to further regulate the infant formula market, the government issued stipulations barring marketing and sales of infant formula in hospitals.

A Tianjin health bureau official said that it is "only reasonable" for maternity hospitals to provide infant formula to women who cannot breastfeed due to medical reasons or those who do not have enough breast milk, although the use of such products is not compulsory.

Zhang Shuyi, an assistant researcher at the Capital Institute of Pediatrics, a children's hospital in Beijing, said that health authorities should correct such practices of providing infant formula to new mothers.

International guidelines state that a newborn should be brought to the mother for the first breastfeeding session within one hour of delivery but Zhang says these guidelines are not implemented because hospitals want babies to get accustomed to drinking infant formula instead.

A survey conducted by the national health authority in 2008 revealed that only 40 percent of maternity hospitals on the Chinese mainland follow that guideline.

Zhang Yu, a resident of Tianjin who is three months pregnant, said that it is common for companies to promote infant formula at medical institutions.

"One time, I saw the hospital where I went for a prenatal checkup give each expecting mother a small can of infant formula," she said. "Pregnant women actually have hardly any control over anything in the process up to and including giving birth. But I will still choose to give birth in a hospital because they are more experienced in helping women give birth."


Breast milk is widely accepted to be the best form of nutrition for newborns. It strengthens their immune system and is an important way for mother and child to bond. Breastfeeding rates in China, however, are comparatively low. According to Zhang Shikun, director of the Women and Children Health Care Service Department of the National Health and Family Planning Commission of the People's Republic of China, the breastfeeding rate in China is 30 percent - far below that of neighboring countries such as Mongolia and Vietnam, which average more than 80 percent. Zhang said that the breastfeeding rate in China aims to reach 60 percent.

Investigation Results

On September 17, 2013, after the secret deals were reported, the National Health and Family Planning Commission told hospitals to strictly abide by the law governing breast milk substitutes.

The Tianjin Health Bureau, together with local government and police, pledged to investigate the scandal after it emerged.

According to the investigation results published by the Tianjin municipality people's government, 116 people from 85 hospitals and health organizations have taken commercial bribes from Danone to give lectures to the parents of newborns, introduce and recommend Dumex milk powder, and give them free product samples.

Thirteen serious violators were given punishments, including cancellation of medical licenses and deduction of salaries. Six authorities from the medical departments of both municipal and district levels have received administrative sanctions of warnings or even records of demerit.

All the bribes taken by the 116 people have been collected, according to the government statement.

More Attention to Breastfeeding

The Tianjin infant formula scandal, while exposing the corruption of an infant formula company and certain hospitals, had the unexpected side benefit of drawing people's attention to the importance of breastfeeding.

As many young mothers are unsure about how to breastfeed their babies and feel they need professional guidance, many hospitals in China have set up breastfeeding counseling rooms staffed with gynecologists and nurses who specialize in obstetrics.

For example, Beijing Maternity Hospital has set up a breastfeeding counseling room staffed with gynecologists and nurses who specialize in obstetrics,which is the first of its kind in a municipal hospital. Breastfeeding counselors of the hospital help new mothers to build up their confidence, and give advice on problems such as breast distension pain, insufficient milk, crater nipples, and transudatory milk, which has helped a lot with the increasing rate of breastfeeding.

(Source: Xinhua; hsw.cn;baidu.com/ Translated and edited by womenofchina.cn)
Read More

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