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Lactalis baby milk could have been infected with salmonella for 13 years, CEO says

Lactalis, one of the world’s largest makers of dairy products has recalled 12 million tins around the world

Ben Chapman
Friday 02 February 2018 13:15 GMT
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More than 30 babies were taken ill last year after drinking milk produced at a Lactalis factory in western France
More than 30 babies were taken ill last year after drinking milk produced at a Lactalis factory in western France (PA)

Baby milk sold in more than 80 countries by French dairy group Lactalis could have been contaminated with salmonella for thirteen years, the company’s chief executive has said.

Lactalis, one of the world’s largest makers of dairy products, has recalled 12 million tins of baby milk around the world.

More than 30 babies were taken ill last year after drinking contaminated milk produced at a Lactalis factory in western France.

Chief executive Emmanuel Besnier told French newspaper Les Echos on Thursday that the same factory was the source of a 2005 outbreak of salmonella in which 146 babies were infected.

Researchers from the Pasteur Institute in Paris said the bacteria had remained at the factory in Craon factory until it was closed last year.

“The possibility that babies consumed tainted milk over this period (2005-2017) cannot be ruled out,” Mr Besnier said, adding that the crisis could cost Lactalis hundreds of millions of euros.

He also questioned the effectiveness of tests performed by a private laboratory last year that had not detected the bacteria.

“If the analysis of end-products had revealed the presence of Salmonella Agona, we would of course not have marketed the products and we would have avoided the crisis,” Lactalis said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the company said the UK, the US and Australia were not among the countries affected.

Mr Besnier said the scandal was “the biggest crisis I’ve ever had to face as a boss.”

“We can’t say definitively but (the cost) will be very high, several hundred million euros,” he told Les Echos.

“This case could cost us our export licence for a still undetermined period,” he added.

A group set up by parents of the children affected expressed dismay at Mr Besnier’s comments.

“These are several hundred million boxes concerned and several hundred thousand tonnes of products sent to more than 80 countries. This is a health scandal of unprecedented scale,” it said in a statement.

“This implies that the victims could have been much more numerous.”

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