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PARIS (Reuters) - French dairy group Lactalis is widening a product recall to cover all baby milk manufactured by a factory at the centre of a salmonella contamination, Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Friday.
The move comes as the government seeks to contain reputational damage to France's strategic agri-business industry in overseas markets. Three dozen children have fallen ill in France and at least one other in Spain.
After talks with Lactalis management Le Maire said the company would recall all infant formula milk products made at its Craon factory that were still in warehouses and on store shelves, regardless of the date of manufacture.
"The aim of this radical step is simple: to avoid delays, problems in sorting batches and the risk of human error," Le Maire told a news conference on Friday.
The tough measure reflects high-level frustration at the botched handling of the crisis after France's biggest supermarkets -- including Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc -- this week said that some Lactalis products subject to recalls in December still found their way onto their shelves.
Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, particularly for young children, and the recall risks damaging Lactalis in China. Consumers in China, a fast-growing market for baby food and dairy products, are particularly sensitive to such scares after melamine-tainted baby milk led to the deaths of six children in 2008.
"I cannot guarantee that right now there isn't a single tin of baby milk left on a shelf in a giant warehouse or in a pharmacy," Le Maire said. "I think this (further recall) is the strongest guarantee we can give."
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said on Jan. 5 that one infant in Spain had fallen ill with a salmonella infection linked to contaminated Lactalis baby milk and another case in Greece was thought to be related.
A judicial investigation is taking place in France over the contamination and a group of French parents of affected infants said on Friday that they were considering a joint lawsuit.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz and Richard Lough; Editing by David Goodman)
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)