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French dairy producer caught in baby milk saga

France has ordered a major multinational dairy company based in France to recall all the baby milk produced at one of its factories or face possible punishment over the baby milk formula scandal.

President Emmanuel Macron, who is in Rome attending a Franco-Italian summit, had ordered his ministers to meet with major retailers and have all the salmonella-infected baby food products from store shelves collected.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he talked to management at Lactalis company, which is one of the world’s largest producers of dairy products, and the group of firms would now recall all infant formula milk products made by its factory in Craon in northwest France and distributed to retailers in dozens of countries across Europe, Africa and Asia.

“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.

“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.”

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Le Maire did not say what volume of baby milk could be involved beyond the more than 12 million items already recalled last month.

So far, three dozen children have fallen ill in France and at least one other in neighboring Spain and possibly one more in Greece.

Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, particularly in infants.

In a later statement Lactalis confirmed the extended recall and pledged to find and eradicate the causes of the salmonella contamination.

After investigation on the ill infants, on December 2 government authorities swooped on the Craon factory and found the assembly line where milk is transformed into powder to be contaminated with salmonella bacteria.

Lactalis then issued a recall of all products made at its factory.
But implementing the recall turned out to be a difficult and costly task for the company.

Some of France’s biggest supermarket chain stores, including Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc, admitted this week that they had continued to sell the manufacturer’s affected products even after the ban.

Carrefour said it had sold 434 boxes of baby milk produced by Lactalis, Systeme-U admitted to selling 384 boxes, Leclerc said it had sold 984 affected Lactalis products, Auchan 52, Hypermarket chain Casino, which also owns the Franprix and Geant franchises, was the latest to come forward on Thursday, saying it had sold a total of 403 items covered by the recall.

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“If penalties are needed, they will be imposed,” Macron had warned on Thursday.

The baby formula scandal has been particularly embarrassing for Macron who pushed food exports during a recent state visit to the country of China, which also has a notorious history as one of the main manufacturers of all sorts of contaminated food products, including tainted milk and vitamin supplements, as well as plastic and glued together rice bits.

The scandal 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.

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