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French Press Review 18 January 2018


"Omnipotence coupled with the cult of secrecy and a maverick attitude" . . in the baby milk industry? Plus, a victory for French enviromentalists, or for no one?

The front page of le Monde teases its inside coverage of "Lactalis, the reasons for the health scandal."

If you didn't know, Lactalis is a multi-national dairy products corporation, based in Laval, Mayenne, France. It is the largest dairy products group in the world, ahead the the Swiss company Nestlé and the US cooperative Dairy Farmers of America.

The "scandal" is around baby milk contaminated with salmonella that has sickened dozens of children and led to the recall of Lactalis baby milk in 83 countries.

This amid growing anger after it emerged that the company's own tests had discovered salmonella in one factory in August and November.

The company did not report the findings and it says it had no legal obligation to do so.

In an attempt to extinguish the crisis, boss of Lactalis, Emmanuel Besnier, dubbed "the Invisible Man" by Catholic Daily la Croix, has promised compensation to parents whose children have suffered. And to widen the the recall of products, le Monde says.

"But, on the reasons for this crisis, no clarification is given."

"The position of Lactalis seems not to have moved one iota," the paper declares. "We consider that there has been no failure on our part in the procedures," said Besnier.

The Lactalis boss acknowledged the presence of salmonella in the environment of the plant twice; on a cleaning tool and on tiling? But, he says that no product tested was contaminated.

A lack of transparency is at the heart of the problem, le Monde believes. An opacity illustrated by Besnier's deliberate desire never to publish his accounts. Not being listed on the stock exchange, he is not obliged to do so and prefers to pay a fine if necessary.

"Lactalis, they have tremendous power. I can not get angry with them. Otherwise it's very dangerous, half of my cheese department and almost all of my milk department will be empty," one retailer told the paper.

Still, the paper concludes, this omnipotence coupled with the cult of secrecy and a maverick attitude turns against the company in times of crisis. The situation is more difficult today, in the era of social networks. Especially when the health alert touches babies. An ultra sensitive subject. The association of the parents knew how to occupy the media space left vacant by Lactalis."

Reader comments following the story are revealing.

For example: "A judicial procedure is in progress: the justice will update all the defaults and the penalties will be the measure of cheating and faults. In the meantime it is necessary that Le Monde ceases its denigration of a large French company."

"France does not have many world leaders in their fields! It is obvious that the state must be implacable, ruthless with Emmanuel Besnier."

"Terrifying to see the lousy delivery of the Minister of Agriculture ... Say that we entrust the steering wheel to people so pale, so little skill in arguing, so cowardly, so impotent.

"Lactalis is a profitable and prosperous company, in tune with its time, with notable leaders. What a pleasure to live in the 19th century!"

The French adore irony.


Needless to say, there are yards of coverage of the French government's decision to abandon controversial plans to build a new airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes in the west of the country.

La Croix thinks the decision is reasonable. Though it notes that it comes after 50 years of procrastination.

Like the other papers, they regard it as a victory for environmentalists, including so-called Zadists, hippy militants who have been occupying the site for years.


Le Parisien has an interview with Nicolas Hulot, a former journalist and environmental activist, who is now France's Minister of the Ecological and Solidarity Transition.

Hulot tells the paper: "I think this is no one's victory today and like everyone else, I would have preferred a solution that has a broad consensus. I am convinced that it is the least bad solution that has been chosen. I feel relief because it's time for everyone to decide, and move on."

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