He estimated that "tens of millions of cans" of powdered baby milk, exported to 66 countries, may have been contaminated by the salmonella outbreak discovered in December at Lactalis's site in Craon, northwest France.
The move comes as the government seeks to contain reputational damage to France's strategic agri-business industry in overseas markets. Three dozen children are thought to have fallen ill. "There has been unacceptable behavior which should be punished", Le Maire told a news conference.
Carrefour, E.Leclerc, Auchan and Systéme U all continued to offer Lactalis baby milk after a recall had been issued last December.
Employees walk in front of the entrance of the French dairy group Lactalis headquarters in Laval, western France, January 12, 2018.
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.
Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, particularly for young children, and the recall risks damaging Lactalis in China. More than thirty babies fell ill after consuming the milk, although none died. The health scare in China caused distrust in locally produced infant formula and benefited foreign suppliers such as Nestle, Danone and Lactalis.
The claim was rebuffed by Le Maire, who told French television: "If there had been ideal collaboration, I wouldn't have had to sign an order on December 9 demanding the recall of more than 600 shipments of baby milk". "I think this (further recall) is the strongest guarantee we can give".
"This is a major malfunction in the process of recall by the managers, to whom responsibility lies", the minister said in the margins of a press conference that he presented for the presentation of the worldwide exhibition of agricultural products expected to be held by the end of February, every year, in Paris.