BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Health Ministry reminded hospitals on Tuesday that they are not allowed to push the sale of baby milk to new mothers after Chinese state television said Danone had bribed hospital staff to give its milk powder to new-born babies.
China Central Television said the company's Dumex unit had paid medical staff at a city hospital in Tianjin to promote its products, allegations that the French food group said it was shocked by and would investigate immediately.
The ministry, in a statement on its website in response to the report, said existing laws on promoting breast milk and not allowing medical personnel to promote the sale of baby milk must be followed.
"Medical establishments and their staff are banned from pushing or promoting substitute products for breast milk on mothers and families of infants ... (They must) actively promote and push breastfeeding," it added.
Staff who broke the rules or accepted bribes would be severely punished, the statement said.
Milk powder is a highly sensitive topic in China after a scandal in 2008 when melamine added to baby milk killed at least six children and left thousands ill.
International guidelines, used in China, say doctors should promote breastfeeding unless there are medical reasons not to.
Corruption in China's healthcare industry is widespread, fuelled in part by low base salaries for doctors at the country's 13,500 public hospitals.
China has been cracking down in recent months on graft in various industries, with foreign companies in regulators' sights.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)