French authorities are searching five sites run by dairy giant Lactalis over a scandal involving salmonella in baby formula.
The Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed French police have raided five premises belonging to French dairy giant Lactalis this morning. Sites being searched include Lactalis’ headquarters in Laval, western France, and the company’s factory in Craon, where salmonella bacteria were found late last year. Searches were also conducted at the offices of Lactalis Nutrition Sante and Lactalis Nutrition Dietetique in Torce, Brittany, which hosts the group’s quality control services.
The contamination happened in a dehydration tower used to reduce milk. The company first recalled products from 30 countries in December due to contamination of infant formula with salmonella . Lactalis later said the recall affects more than 12 million products in 83 countries. At least 37 babies in France have fallen ill so far – 18 were hospitalised, though fortunately they are expected to make a full recovery – as well as one in Spain and another unconfirmed case in Greece, making this a pan-European scandal.
The French government has laid the blame for the widening crisis squarely on Lactalis, one of the world’s largest dairy groups, as well as on retailers who sold the tainted products despite a recall. “When you have a case of milk on the market which has clearly caused complicated health problems for children, it means at some point there was negligence,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on Sunday. Fraud and health authorities are investigating the handling of the scare.
This could mean serious trouble for the French dairy tycoon. Local media have reported that salmonella bacteria was detected by Lactalis’ own technicians in August and November but authorities were not notified of the find. Lactalis chief executive Emmanuel Besnier at the weekend offered to compensate those affected. He also denied claims Lactalis had lied about the dates and amount of stock affected by the salmonella outbreak.
Lactalis has become an industry giant, with annual sales of $26 billion and 18,900 employees across 40 countries. The recall risks damaging Lactalis’ image worldwide – especially in China, a fast-growing market for baby food and dairy products – and benefiting its competitors such as Nestle and Danone.
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