Baby Milk Producer, Lactalis, Offers Salmonella Compensation

PARIS (Reuters) —


A milk products sticker is seen on a building at  Lactalis headquarters in Laval, western France. (REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

France welcomed dairy group Lactalis’s pledge to compensate victims of a Salmonella contamination in its baby milk on Sunday, but said a judicial investigation to determine who was responsible would continue.

Lactalis Chief Executive Emmanuel Besnier told the weekly Journal du Dimanche that his family company, one of the world’s biggest dairies, would “pay damages to every family which has suffered a prejudice.” A global recall was announced after three dozen children fell ill.

Besnier’s promise came two days after Lactalis widened a product recall to cover all infant formula made at its Craon plan, regardless of the manufacture date, in a bid to contain the fallout from a health scare that risks damaging France’s strategic agribusiness in overseas markets.

“Paying compensation is good, but money cannot buy everything,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said in an interview on the BFM media station.

The health scare intensified last week after France’s biggest retailers including Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc admitted products recalled in December had still found their way onto shelves.

“It is the job of the investigation to determine where failings occurred and who is to blame,” Griveaux said, adding that “responsibilities were shared.”

Besnier did not say how much the damages might amount to.

Implementing the global recall will be challenging; it involves some 12 million cans. Privately owned Lactalis, one of the world’s biggest dairies, exports its baby food products to 83 countries across Europe, Africa and Asia.

Lactalis has become an industry giant, with annual sales of 17 billion euros ($20.73 billion) and 18,900 employees across some 40 countries.

The Craon plant will likely remain closed for several months.

The recall risks damaging Lactalis in China, a fast-growing market for baby food and dairy products where scares after melamine-tainted baby milk led to the deaths of six children in 2008.

That scandal caused distrust in locally produced infant formula and benefited foreign suppliers such as Nestle, Danone and Lactalis.

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