02 Feb 2018 --- Multinational dairy cooperative, Lactalis could have been producing salmonella-tainted baby milk since 2005. Chief Executive, Emmanuel Besnier, was quoted making the statement earlier in the week to French newspaper Les Echos, adding that the crisis was “likely to cost the company hundreds of millions of euros.”
The French dairy group recalled 12 million tins of baby milk, which were distributed globally, after several children fell ill last year after drinking salmonella-contaminated milk from a factory in Craon, France. You can read FoodIngredientsFirst coverage of this from December and January here and here.
Besnier told the weekly Journal du Dimanche that the company would “pay damages to every family which has suffered a prejudice.”
French authorities have said there were 38 cases of salmonella infections reported between mid-August and December last year, 36 of them clearly linked to Lactalis milk. A group representing victims’ families say at least 10 more cases are unaccounted for.
The same strain of salmonella was also responsible for some infections in 2005, Besnier told Les Echos, adding it was possible other infections had occurred since then.
“It cannot be excluded that babies have consumed contaminated milk over this period,” Besnier said, questioning the effectiveness of multiple tests performed by a private lab that had revealed very little.
Besnier noted that Lactalis was stopping production at one of its facilities at the factory in Craon due to the outbreak. In 2005, the plant was owned by Celia, a company taken over by Lactalis in 2006.
“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.
The victims’ association said it had read Besnier’s comments with “dismay.”
“These are several hundred million boxes concerned and several hundred thousand tons 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.”
Besnier also said the scandal was “the biggest crisis I’ve ever had to face as a boss.”
“We can’t say definitively confirm but will be very high, several hundred million euros,” he told Les Echos. Besnier did not give specific details of what the costs would amount to.
He did say that a lot of the milk recalled since December had been consumed and that returns were likely to amount to less than half of total volumes.
At the time, company spokesman Michel Nalet told AFP “nearly 7,000 tons” of production may have been contaminated.
Families affected by contaminated milk, intend to file lawsuits against the company. Besnier said Lactalis was the target of multiple legal complaints.
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