French President Emmanuel Macron deflected blame Thursday in the latest chapter of a dairy scandal that has embarrassed the French government, major supermarkets and a dairy giant.
Speaking from a press conference in Rome, Macron hit out at dairy giant Lactalis after major supermarkets acknowledged this week that millions of baby food products recalled in December over fears of salmonella contamination still made it onto French shelves.
Calling Lactalis' practices "unacceptable," Macron said that "food security of all French and European citizens is a priority that must be guaranteed at the highest levels."
Some of the retailers concerned have accepted joint responsibility, but it's still not clear how the recall was bungled.
Lactalis, among the world's biggest dairy product producers, launched a global recall of its products made at its factory in Craon, northwest France, in December after discovering salmonella bacteria on site. France's consumer protection agency ordered a halt to sales of products from the site.
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.
In an attempt to control the damage and perceptions of incompetency — including at the government level — Macron said he asked all the stakeholders to meet to stop the fallout and promised punishment for those involved.
Lactalis spokesperson Michel Nalet, during a Thursday press conference, offered no clear explanation for what went wrong, but said that the scale of the recall was unprecedented in the dairy industry and that the group was investigating.
"We have to win back the trust of our customers," he said.
Some 18 babies were hospitalized late last year over the contaminated products, though they all recovered.