France blames Lactalis, retailers in baby food scare

France laments ‘dysfunction’ in baby milk recall

France's finance minister has threatened to levy sanctions after major supermarkets admitted selling possibly contaminated baby milk.

Leclerc, France's biggest food retailer, said it had sold 984 products involved in the recall.

"This is a major dysfunction in the withdrawal and recall by the operators, who bear responsibility", Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert told reporters.

But Thierry Desouches also denied there was any malice in the retailers" actions, questioning whether they would intentionally risk their reputations to keep stocking a product for "derisory' profits.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire described the lapse as "unacceptable behaviour, which should be punished".

"The Greek case has not, but the signs are there", he said, adding that so far only phenotype testing had been carried out to compare the bacteria strain of the Lactalis product with the strain in the child.

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He also summoned retail industry leaders to his ministry later on Thursday, and said he would meet on Friday with Lactalis managers who were responsable for the safety of their products and been "found lacking", he said.

The lapse came to light when about 35 infants fed Lactalis milk fell ill.

"This hasn't been taken seriously enough", Jean-Yves Mano, president of consumer association CLCV said on the radio station France Info Thursday.

Some of the products included in the recall were destined for markets overseas, including China.

"This is a major malfunction in the process of recall by the managers, to whom responsibility lies", the minister said in the margins of a press conference that he presented for the presentation of the global exhibition of agricultural products expected to be held by the end of February, every year, in Paris.

The plant has been at a standstill since December 8 and said Thursday it put 250 of its 327 staff on shorter working hours until at least early next month. Salmonella can cause severe diarrhoea, stomach cramps, vomiting, and sever dehydration.

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