You are here: Home » Reuters » News
Business Standard

France blames Lactalis, retailers in deepening baby food scare

Reuters  |  PARIS 

By Richard 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 had still found their way onto shop shelves.

The admissions by , Leclerc, and deepened a salmonella health scare that began in early December when France's consumer protection agency ordered the halt to sales and a global recall of from a factory in Three dozen children have fallen ill.

The botched recall is particularly embarrassing for the government after pushed during a state visit to this week.

laid the blame squarely on Lactalis, one of the world's largest dairy groups, and the retailers as he tried to stem the fallout from the scandal.

"There has been unacceptable behaviour, which should be punished," he told a conference.

In a sign of how seriously 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 damaging in China, a fast-growing market for and where consumers are highly sensitive after melamine-tainted led to the deaths of six children in 2008.

That health scare caused distrust in locally produced infant formula and benefited foreign suppliers such as , and

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 has begun an investigation and carried out 2,500 checks so far. A further 2,500 checks will be carried out from next week.


Le Maire said initial checks showed recalled had remained on sale at 91 sites in France, but there were no indications so far that potentially had been exported.

Just back from a three-day official visit to with Macron, Le Maire said he had discussed the recall with his counterparts in Beijing, adding: "The best response is transparency".

Le Maire said the was forced to issue a Dec. 10 recall because was too slow to take action.

"The state took over from a company which failed in its actions," he said.

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 for talks on Friday.

The issued a first recall on Dec. 10 after discovered salmonella contamination at its Craon factory, halting the sale of several made there.

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 aimed for export to some 30 countries, including to China, and overall represented more than 12 million tins in what Nalet said was the biggest recall had ever experienced.

In a statement on Thursday, said it had sold 434 at risk of contamination since the Dec. 21 recall, but that another 95,000 had been successfully removed from shelves.

Leclerc, France's biggest food retailer, said this week it had sold 984 involved in the recall.

"We made mistakes, as did all the big distribution companies," told BFM TV, adding the recall had been complex.

A French judicial investigation was launched in December and consumer protection association said it had filed a lawsuit against for alleged fraud.

($1 = 0.8378 euros)

(Reporting by Richard and Dominique Vidalon; Additional reporting by Sybille de la Hamaide, Gus Trompiz and Myriam Rivet; Editing by Alexander Smith, and Mark Potter)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, January 12 2018. 00:06 IST