Danone food unit Nutricia has started an internal investigation into bribery claims in China.
A report in Chinese newspaper 21st Century Business Herald has alleged that Nutricia, maker of KariCare milk formula, bribed doctors to boost sales.
The report, which cited an unidentified person, claimed that the unit gave gifts and travel subsidies to more than 100 doctors in 14 hospitals in Beijing.
This is the second such allegation made against a Danone unit in recent weeks.
“At the moment we still don’t know the details,” Zhao Qinghua, a spokeswoman for Nutricia in China, was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.
“We need to wait to see the outcome of the investigation before we can make our next plans.”
A report in Chinese newspaper 21st Century Business Herald has alleged that Nutricia, maker of KariCare milk formula, bribed doctors to boost sales
Earlier this month a report on China Central Television alleged that Dumex, a baby food brand owned by Danone, bribed doctors to boost sales.
It was accused of giving “sponsorship fees” or payments of up to 10,000 yuan ($1,632) to hospital staff.
Dumex said it was “shocked” by the allegations and was investigating the claims.
The French food giant has also faced other problems in China this year.
Danone cut prices for its infant milk formula products by as much as 20% after China’s top economic planning body fined it in August for price-fixing.
The company also had to issue a precautionary recall of its milk formula products last month after one of its suppliers, Fonterra, said some items may have been contaminated.
Demand for foreign brands has surged in China, after tainted milk scandals in recent years led to a distrust of local producers.
According to some estimates, foreign brands now account for about half of all infant milk sales in the country.
However, foreign companies have come under scrutiny recently amid a government-led crackdown on corruption in the healthcare sector.
New Zealand dairy firm Fonterra has apologized for the distress caused to parents because of a scare over contaminated products.
Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings was speaking in China after it emerged on Saturday that batches of whey protein contained bacteria that can cause botulism.
Contaminated products, including infant formula, were exported to a number of countries, including China.
Botulism is an extremely dangerous form of food poisoning.
“We regret the distress and anxiety which this issue could have caused,” Theo Spierings told reporters in Beijing.
“Parents have the right to know that infant nutrition and other products are safe.”
Theo Spierings added that Fonterra was committed to China and was working with regulators to address the problem.
China and Russia have moved to ban imports of the contaminated products.
Fonterra said it had received confirmation that China had not imposed a blanket ban on its products.
Fonterra has apologized for the distress caused to parents because of a scare over contaminated products
Earlier on Monday, New Zealand PM John Key questioned why Fonterra, the world’s largest dairy exporter, delayed raising the alarm over the contaminated products.
John Key said concerns were raised after a series of tests in May 2012.
“When you’ve got a company that’s our largest company, our largest brand, our largest exporter that is the flagship for New Zealand and your whole business is about food safety and food quality you think they’d take such a precautionary view to these things and say if it’s testing for some reason in an odd way that it would just be discarded until they were absolutely sure that its right,” John Key said.
However, Theo Spierings addressed this by saying that the first sign of a problem only came to light after tests in March this year.
Fonterra said the bacteria came from a dirty pipe at a processing plant for whey protein concentrate.
It said the bacteria had been found in three batches of whey protein which had been used in Nutricia Karicare for infants.
Fonterra has exported the contaminated whey protein concentrate to China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
So far, there have not been any illnesses reported related to the contaminated products.
China relies heavily on New Zealand for its imports of milk powder. The country experienced a tainted milk scandal in 2008 that killed six babies and made about 300,000 ill.
According to Chinese state media, nearly 80% of dairy products imported by China come from New Zealand.
New Zealand is the world’s largest dairy exporter.