Salmonella contamination scandal: Lactalis seeks over €1 Billion in compensation from Eurofins laboratory
In a renewed development surrounding the infamous infant milk contamination scandal that rocked Lactalis' Craon factory six years ago, the dairy giant has filed a lawsuit against Eurofins Scientific, the external laboratory responsible for conducting bacteriological tests on their Mayenne site. Lactalis claims that Eurofins failed to detect the presence of Salmonella, which led to the infection of 36 infants in 2017.
Lactalis argues that the 16 000 tests conducted by Eurofins in 2017 were ineffective and flawed. They claim that the laboratory provided "false negatives" by failing to detect Salmonella in the environment of the drying tower number 1 at the Craon site between August and November 2017. Additionally, Lactalis alleges that Eurofins' "false positive" tests led to unnecessary recalls of milk cans, even after the bacteria was no longer present in the factory. Consequently, Lactalis withdrew nearly all of its 2017 production, totaling a staggering 1 352 batches of milk cans.
The dairy giant's compensation claim against Eurofins amounts to more than €1 billion, encompassing the costs of recalled and destroyed batches, lost profits for Lactalis' client brands worldwide, and the enduring impact on the turnover of its infant activity. Despite representing less than 5% of Lactalis' overall revenue, the infant milk division has struggled to fully recover since the scandal, according to the company. The Craon factory remained closed for a total of nine months until October 2018.
Lactalis' legal action adds a new dimension to the ongoing battle over responsibility for one of the most significant health scandals of the past decade. In February 2023, Lactalis was indicted for aggravated deception and involuntary injury following the contamination incident. As a marketer, the company is entrusted with ensuring the safety of its products.
Eurofins has strongly denied any wrongdoing and criticized Lactalis for attempting to shift blame. The laboratory argues that Lactalis disregarded the results of Eurofins' analyses, which had consistently identified the presence of Salmonella in the Craon factory since 2009, including in August 2017. Eurofins contends that Lactalis failed to implement the necessary control and withdrawal procedures despite being well-informed about the pathogen's presence. The laboratory characterizes Lactalis' compensation claim as baseless and an attempt to divert attention from its own negligence.
The legal battle between Lactalis and Eurofins is expected to continue for several years. The Paris commercial court judgment on the merits of the case is not anticipated until 2025. If Lactalis succeeds in its claim, the financial implications for Eurofins, which is projected to achieve a turnover of approximately €6.6 billion in 2023, would be significant.
As the legal proceedings unfold, the public and industry stakeholders closely watch the outcome, hoping for clarity and accountability regarding the contaminated infant milk scandal.