France laments 'dysfunction' in baby milk recall

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But French retailers Carrefour, Auchan 52 and Systeme-U Leclerc said this week that the recalled products were still available to buy after the halt.

The move comes as the government seeks to contain reputational damage to France's strategic agri-business industry in overseas markets. Over 30 children have fallen ill and the crisis deepened this week.

French President Emmanuel Macron's government is scrambling to save face after the alarming failure of a mass recall of baby milk prompted by a salmonella scare. "This matter is serious, it has led to unacceptable behavior which must be punished". The recall also risks damaging Lactalis in China, a fast-growing market for baby food and dairy products.

That health scare caused distrust in locally produced infant formula and benefited foreign suppliers such as Nestle NESN.N, Danone (DANO.PA) and Lactalis.

Privately-held Lactalis, which has annual sales of around 17 billion euros ($20 billion), has addressed the salmonella contamination by halting operations at the factory where it started.

Le Maire did not say what volume of baby milk could be involved beyond the more than 12 million items already recalled last month.

Le Maire fired harsh criticism against Lactalis before the press conference, calling it a "failing company".

On Thursday, Le Maire announced that 2,500 additional checks would be launched across France next week to make sure that all products concerned were removed from shelves.

In a statement on Thursday, Carrefour said it had sold 434 products at risk of contamination since the December 21 recall, but that another 95,000 had been successfully removed from shelves.

Four of France's largest supermarket chains have admitted to stocking infant formula products despite concerns they were contaminated with salmonella.

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