FILE PHOTO: The logo of Lactalis Group is seen at the entrance of the French dairy group Lactalis headquarters in Laval

PARIS (Reuters) – French retailers, defending their role in a contaminated baby milk scandal on Wednesday, said they had received products after the recall deadline and that communication by dairy producer Lactalis was confusing.

Lactalis, one of the world’s largest dairy groups, recalled 12 million tins in France and around the world after babies were taken ill last year after drinking salmonella-contaminated milk produced at a factory in western France.

Representatives from retailers Carrefour, Casino, Leclerc, Intermarche, Auchan, Systeme U and Cora, speaking at a hearing of the French Senate’s Economic Affairs Committee on the health scare on Wednesday, did however admit to some responsibility for products remaining on their store shelves.

Several families and consumer associations have filed complaints against Lactalis and retailers over the scandal, which also threatens to damage the reputation of France’s strategic agri-business industry in overseas markets.

Retailers said Lactalis had delivered recalled products after the date when they should have been removed from the market.

Auchan’s Secretary General Franck Geretzhuber said that after the Dec. 21 recall, Auchan received a delivery of the Lactalis products affected by the recall on Dec. 29 while Dufort said Lactalis products were delivered to Carrefour on Dec. 14 even though they had been recalled on Dec. 10.

Lactalis was not immediately available to comment.

Some of the retailers, including Carrefour, Leclerc and Auchan admitted to human errors after some Lactalis products that had been returned by clients found their way back on to store shelves. All retailers however pointed to confused and slow communication from Lactalis.

“Our processes were robust but destabilized by the erratic communication of our supplier, who multiplied unclear messages,” Casino’s head of external communications Claude Risac said.

Leclerc, Auchan, Carrefour, Casino and Systeme U have all acknowledged that some of the baby milk remained on their shelves after the recall that began in early December.

Two complaints by families are already targeting Auchan and Leclerc.

“At Carrefour, the fault comes from poor management of the products returned to the stores by clients,” Carrefour’s head of quality Stephane Dufort told the committee.

Salmonella infections can be life-threatening and the families of three dozen children who have fallen sick in France as a result of the contaminated baby milk have announced a raft of lawsuits.

Lactalis CEO Emmanuel Besnier said earlier this month that Lactalis could have been producing salmonella-tainted baby milk at the factory in Craon since 2005. He said the crisis was likely to cost the company hundreds of millions of euros.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Sybille de la Hamaide; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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