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French baby formula scandal broadens; retailers blame Lactalis

Negative news keeps piling up for French dairy giant Lactalis, which recalled 12 million cans of baby milk in December because of a multi-country Salmonella outbreak traced to the product.

Forty infants across France, Spain and Greece have been confirmed in the Salmonella Agona outbreak. Lactalis distributed the product to 86 countries. The company sells products in the United States, but the recalled infant formula was not sent to the states.

French media report that retailers testified before a government panel this past week, confirming that they continued to sell the product after the recall. The retailers said a series of confusing messages from Lactalis was partly responsible for their failure to pull the implicated product from shelves.

Representatives from the retailers also testified that the chains had received the product from Lactalis after the recall was initiated in December 2017, according to a report from Reuters. The retailers, Carrefour, Casino, Leclerc, Intermarche, Auchan, Systeme U and Cora, spoke during a hearing before the French Senate’s Economic Affairs Committee.

Foodwatch, a non-profit consumer watchdog group in Europe, filed a complaint saying Lactalis violated federal laws 12 times in relation to the ongoing baby formula scandal. A coalition of families with children who have been infected is also pursuing legal action against Lactalis.

In addition to the current Salmonella outbreak, Lactalis executives admitted in recent days that Salmonella had been found in the same production plant in 2005. Dozens of infants fell ill then, also.

The French government is investigating reports that the company also found Salmonella in finished products, but did not reveal those test results as required by law.

In financial news this past week, Lactalis finally made public annual reports for 2014, 2015 and 2016 that are required by French law, according to multiple media outlets in France. It marked the first time since 2011 that the multi-national company published balance sheets.

French authorities gave the company a March 17 deadline to produce the remaining financial reports it has not yet filed.

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