January 24, 2019

France decries 'dysfunction' in baby milk recall

13 January 2018, 08:58 | Randall Craig

Employees walk in front of the entrance of the French dairy group Lactalis headquarters in Laval western France

Employees walk in front of the entrance of the French dairy group Lactalis headquarters in Laval western France

The botched recall is particularly embarrassing for the government after President Emmanuel Macron pushed food exports during a state visit to China this week.

On Dec. 10, Lactalis - one of the world's top manufacturers of dairy products - ordered a recall of 625 batches or almost 7,000 tons of products after almost 30 infants fell sick.

"This is a serious matter and there has been unacceptable behavior that should be punished", Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said at a press conference earlier Thursday.

Lactalis Nutrition Santé recalled over 600 batches (more than 7,000 tonnes) of products manufactured at a factory in Craon from 15 February past year.

But on Thursday Lactalis spokesman Michel Nalet said the company had "worked in ideal collaboration with state agencies" since the start of the crisis in December.

French retailers are now being drawn into the scandal as consumer advocates excoriate them for being insufficiently thorough in pulling the products.

Auchan said 52 products had been sold after the recall date in 28 stores. Casino said it has sold 352 such items, according to AFP.

"The new situation confirms that the failure is systemic and not just sector-wide", he said on his blog on Thursday.

In a sign of how seriously France is taking the issue, Macron weighed in from Italy, also promising punishment for those responsible.

Last week, a report said that French food safety inspectors failed to detect salmonella contamination at the Lactalis facility three months before the company carried out the recall.

In December 2017, at least 35 infants in France fell ill after being fed tainted products.

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. Carrefour said it sold 434 products that should have been recalled. The illness, caused by intestinal bacteria from farm animals, is especially unsafe for the very young and elderly because it can cause severe dehydration.

The DGCCRF issued a first recall on December 10 after Lactalis discovered salmonella contamination at its Craon factory, halting the sale of several baby food products made there.

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