By Maria Montecristo
In a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, Congressional leaders will ask baby formula manufacturers and government regulators what happened to the United States' supply of formula and what's preventing stores from restocking shelves. A statement released in advance of the hearing states, "In recent months, American families have experienced a supply shortage of infant formula. Reports of a shortage first began in January 2022, exacerbated by the Abbott Nutrition (Abbott) voluntary recall of certain brands of powdered infant formula in February 2022 following reports of potential Cronobacter sakazakii (Cronobacter) contamination at its Sturgis, Michigan, facility. As many as 75 percent of American caregivers partially depend on the formula to provide nutrients to their infants up to six months of age. The current shortage has been particularly acute for low-income families, rural families, and infants and children solely reliant on specialty formulas to manage metabolic, gastrointestinal, or allergic disorders."
The closure of a significant manufacturing facility has caused a baby formula shortage. The company that makes Similac, Abbott Nutrition, holds more than 40% of the market for baby formula in the U.S. What led to the facility closure?
In September 2021, initial complaints filed in Minnesota stated an infant who consumed formula made at Abbott's Michigan facilities tested positive for Cronobacter sakazakii, a potentially lethal bacteria. Cronobacter is rare, but it can cause sepsis or meningitis and even cause infant death.
In October 2021, a former Abbott employee contacted the FDA concerning possible food safety violations at the Michigan facility. Numerous safety concerns detailed in the complaint include negligent safety procedures. According to the former Abbott employee, officials manipulated testing procedures and purposefully covered up quality concerns, such as discovering bacteria in a batch of infant formula in 2019. According to Politico, the whistleblower accuses Abbott of allegedly shipping untested formulas and falsifying maintenance records. There was no traceability, and the factory's automatic labeler frequently malfunctioned, making it difficult to track down potentially contaminated products.
In late January 2022, upon receiving consumer complaints about infant illnesses related to formulas produced at Abbott's Michigan plant, the FDA initiated a joint investigation with the Centers for Disease Control.
In February 2022, the agency issued a consumer advisory alert. Abbott voluntarily recalled several infant formulas and shut down the Michigan plant, crippling supply since only a handful of baby formula manufacturers in the United States.
Biden invoked the Defense Production Act on Wednesday to force suppliers to prioritize infant formula production to address the crisis. The Pentagon was also authorized to use commercial flights to import supplies. The Senate unanimously passed the Access to Baby Formula Act on Thursday, ensuring that low-income families can buy formula. Biden signed the bill on Friday.
Despite these efforts, our local grocery store shelves sit almost empty. Furthermore, the crisis has fueled formula hoarding, which has exacerbated the deficit and reports of price gouging. Some stores, such as CVS and Walgreens limit customers to three formula purchases per visit.
The Stroudsburg Herald reached out to Giant (East Stroudsburg) and Target (Stroudsburg) to inquire about the estimated time of formula deliveries to their stores. Both stores had the same response that they did not know when the baby formula would be arriving due to the national shortage. Store personnel advised our investigator to check with them daily.
The memo also states, " On March 22, 2022, Abbott announced efforts to increase production of Similac at its other manufacturing facilities in the United States, import Similac from its Ireland plant, and prioritize production of different liquid formulas. On May 11, 2022, the company announced that it could restart its Sturgis plant within two weeks with FDA approval, putting products onto shelves six to eight weeks later. Commissioner Califf has since echoed that the facility could be up and running by late May 2022. " In addition, the FDA announced, that about 2 million cans of U.K. Kendamil baby formula are scheduled to arrive and expected to be in store shelves in early June.
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