Nestle chairman apologizes to Italian minister for ‘memory lapse’ in baby milk dispute
BERN, Switzerland – The head of Nestle SA, the world’s biggest food company, Friday apologized to Italian Health Minister Francesco Storace for a “memory lapse” in a dispute over the recall of baby milk, but Storace said the apology was insufficient and threatened legal action.Nestle Chief Executive Officer Peter Brabeck-Lemathe said in a letter released Friday he had incorrectly said a meeting between Italian authorities and Nestle had occurred in July or August, while it really took place in September. The mistake had led to criticism of Storace that he had known about the contamination of the formula and had done nothing.Brabeck said the error occurred in a conference with 600 investors and reporters in which he drew the wrath of Italian officials by correcting what he said were “false and indeed misleading” figures given by Italian police on the recall.”It was a shock to be confronted with pictures of Italian police, under the prosecutor’s order, seizing Nestle’s products on television, as if these were criminal in origin,” he said. “This was compounded by alarmist and market-relevant information of the seizure of 30 million liters of milk, when Nestle sells no more than 12.5 million liters per year on the Italian market.”This completely false information coming from an official spokesperson of a governmental authority provoked an immediate reaction on the stock exchange,” he said in the letter.Nestle said the right figure for the withdrawn product was up to 2 million liters (530,000 gallons).”However, I acknowledge – and unreservedly apologize for – the memory lapse which caused me to say that the contacts between your Agencia Regionale per la Protezione Ambientale and Nestle took place in July/August rather than in September,” Brabeck said.Storace reacted angrily to reports that Brabeck had said there was an agreement between Nestle and the ministry last July that the baby milk contaminated with the chemical ITX from its packaging be allowed to be sold off while the packaging was being changed.Storace said Thursday the Health Ministry had delivered their complaint to Italy’s Carabinieri police over Brabeck’s “false and offensive” comments.”He will have to respond on this anyway in court,” said Storace in a statement rejecting the apology letter. “The head of a multinational cannot be allowed to sling mud at Italian institutions without paying. The letter will be delivered to investigators today.”Nestle also has recalled smaller amounts of the product from France, Greece, Portugal and Spain.Nestle says Swedish packaging giant Tetra Pak AG was at fault for allowing the chemical from the ink to reach the milk, but it insists the chemical was nontoxic and the products have been removed only as a precaution.European Union food safety experts said Wednesday that the ink detected in the baby milk appeared to present no risk to human health.—–Associated Press correspondent Aidan Lewis contributed to this report from Rome, Italy.