LAVAL (France) • French police raided the headquarters of dairy giant Lactalis yesterday over a baby milk salmonella scare that has sickened dozens of children and led to a major international recall.
Dozens of officers were searching the firm's offices in Laval, western France, as well as its factory in nearby Craon, which was the source of the tainted milk. Searches were also conducted at the offices of Lactalis Nutrition Sante and Lactalis Nutrition Dietetique in Torce, Brittany, which hosts the group's quality control services, the source said.
Lactalis has recalled baby milk from 83 countries, with anger growing after it emerged that the firm's own tests had discovered salmonella at the Craon site in August and November. But it did not report the findings, saying it had no legal obligation to do so because it had not detected salmonella in its products.
The contamination, found in a dehydration tower used to reduce milk, was not revealed to the public until December. At least 37 babies in France are known to have fallen sick and another in Spain, while Greece has also seen one unconfirmed case.
A source close to the probe said magistrates and 70 policemen raided the Lactalis sites yesterday. Officers were guarding the factory doors, an AFP photographer said, with dozens of police vehicles on site.
At the company headquarters, investigators from the public health agency and consumer protection agency searched the premises alongside police.
The recall affects 12 million boxes of powdered baby milk under brands including Picot, Milumel and Celia.
The raids come after Paris investigators opened a preliminary inquiry on Dec 2 for suspected fraud as well as health endangerment by failing to properly execute the recall.
Lactalis chief executive Emmanuel Besnier at the weekend offered to compensate those affected. He also denied claims Lactalis had lied about the dates and amount of stock affected by the salmonella outbreak.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on Sunday the company's explanations were insufficient. "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," Mr Griveaux said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS