business

Macron Calls in Retailers in Widening Tainted Milk Scandal

  • 35 infants infected by salmonella traced to Lactalis product
  • Carrefour, E. Leclerc say some products slipped past recall

Inspectors check baby milk products in a pharmacy in Orleans, France, on Jan. 11.

Photographer: Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images

President Emmanuel Macron said he ordered ministers to meet with retailers including Carrefour SA and Casino Guichard Perrachon SA to discuss the failure to withdraw dairy company Lactalis SA’s salmonella-infected baby food products from store shelves.

"If penalties are needed, they will be imposed," Macron said at a press conference in Rome, where he attended a Franco-Italian summit, without offering more specifics.

At least 35 infants have been poisoned by salmonella after consuming formula produced at a Lactalis plant in western France, according to the French government, which ordered a recall of the tainted products Dec 8. While the scandal’s fallout is spreading, Lactalis remains the focus of anger. The dairy company faces an investigation by prosecutors and legal action by consumers.

“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. “The government has had to intervene with a company that was out of order and that has the sole responsibility for the quality and security of its products on the market.”

Retailers Involved

Lactalis responded Thursday that it is doing its utmost to get to the bottom of the matter and regain the trust of consumers.

“I’ve been at the company for 28 years and we’ve never lived through an event like this,” Lactalis spokesman Michel Nalet said in a televised press conference. “We’re doing everything to get to the causes of this, to move forward, get the plant working again and recover people’s trust.”

French retailers are now being drawn into the scandal as consumer advocates excoriate them for being insufficiently thorough in pulling the products. Carrefour said it sold 434 products that should have been recalled. Casino said it has sold 352 such items, according to AFP. Closely-held grocers Systeme U and E. Leclerc have also admitted that some of the products got through to consumers.

"This hasn’t been taken seriously enough," Jean-Yves Mano, president of consumer association CLCV said on the radio station France Info Thursday. The retailers “need to assume responsibility for public health.”

Definitively Stop

Recalled infant products by Lactalis include formula sold under the brands Picot, Milumel Bio, and Pepti-Junior.

Carrefour has moved to pull all products from the infected factory and not just the 12 batches included in the government’s recall order, the company said in a statement. 

Late Wednesday, retailer Intermarche Chairman Thierry Cotillard said that his company would "definitively" stop selling any infant products from Lactalis’s brand Milumel, blaming the dairy group for the mishandling of the products recall.

Shares in both Carrefour and Casino fell in Paris.

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