Dairy chief breaks silence over salmonella scare

PARIS: The chief executive of France’s Lactalis group on Sunday vowed compensation for victims of salmonella-tainted baby milk, as he revealed that recalls were now under way in 83 countries.
Emmanuel Besnier, giving his first interview in nearly 20 years as head of the family-controlled company, told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that the recall involved more than 12 million packages of Picot, Milumel, Celia and other brands of powdered baby milk.
“We are going to draw the lessons from this crisis and set out an even stricter hygiene framework, in collaboration with the authorities,” he said.
Asked why he had not publicly addressed parents’ concerns as worries about the outbreak intensified, Besnier said: “It’s true, by nature I’m not very forthcoming.”
“In a crisis like this, we act first, and perhaps I didn’t take the necessary time to explain things.”
A total of 37 babies have fallen ill in France as a result of the contamination, health authorities said on Friday, along with a case in Spain and a suspected case in Greece, but Besnier said no new cases had been reported since December 8, a week after the recall was announced.
The French government welcomed the pledge to reimburse victims, but said investigations would continue to determine why the contamination went undetected.
Officials will also investigate why in some cases the affected milk continued to be distributed in supermarkets, pharmacies and even some hospitals after the recall was announced.
“Compensation is good, but money can’t buy everything,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told BFM television on Sunday.
“When you have a case of milk on the market which has clearly caused complicated health problems for children, it means at some point there was negligence,” Griveaux said.
Besnier’s explanations “at this point” have not been sufficient, he added, vowing that the investigations “will not spare anyone”, including the French state.
Besnier’s interview included two of the first public photographs of the secretive leader in years, at the Lactalis headquarters in Laval, western France. —AFP