By Richard Lough and Dominique Vidalon
PARIS (Reuters) - France, seeking to limit reputational damage to its agri-business industry, threatened on Thursday to impose sanctions after the country's big supermarkets said recalled baby foods made by Lactalis had still found their way onto shop shelves.
The admissions by Carrefour
"There has been unacceptable behaviour, which should be punished," he told a news conference.
In a sign of how seriously France is taking the issue, Macron weighed in from Italy, also promising punishment for those responsible.
Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, particularly for young children, and the recall risks damaging Lactalis in China, a fast-growing market for baby food and dairy products where consumers are highly sensitive after melamine-tainted baby milk led to the deaths of six children in 2008.
Privately-held Lactalis, which has annual sales of around 17 billion euros ($20 billion), addressed the salmonella contamination by halting operations at the factory where it started, and on Thursday announced the temporary layoff of 250 workers.
The recall affected goods carrying the Picot, Milumel and Taranis brands destined for French and overseas markets and France's consumer protection agency DGCCRF has begun an investigation and carried out 2,500 checks so far. A further 2,500 checks will be carried out from next week.
Just back from a three-day official visit to China with Macron, Le Maire said he had discussed the recall with his counterparts in Beijing, adding: "The best response is transparency".
"The state took over from a company which failed in its actions," he said.
Lactalis rejected criticism of its response, saying it had collaborated closely with the authorities.
"Our group has since the beginning behaved like a responsible company and of course it will continue to do so," Michel Nalet, Lactalis' head of communication, told reporters.
Le Maire has summoned Lactalis for talks on Friday.
Lactalis announced an extension to the recall less than two weeks later, confirming that contamination occurred at Craon during work in the first half of the year.
The recall included products aimed for export to some 30 countries, including to China, and overall represented more than 12 million baby food tins in what Nalet said was the biggest recall Lactalis had ever experienced.
Leclerc, France's biggest food retailer, said this week it had sold 984 products involved in the recall.
($1 = 0.8378 euros)
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)