Abbott’s manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan, on May 13, 2022.
Jeff Kowalski | AFP | Getty Images
Abbott Laboratories CEO Robert Ford apologized Saturday in a new opinion piece for his company’s role in a nationwide baby milk shortage, which this week prompted Congress and the Biden administration to take emergency action to mitigate it.
Ford also detailed the steps the company is taking to reduce the shortage, pledging, “We are making significant investments to ensure this does not happen again.”
Ford’s apology in a Washington Post article noted that the shortage resulted from the company’s February recall of the formula made at the Abbott Nutrition plant in Sturgis, Michigan, after federal health officials discovered deadly bacteria there. The factory was responsible for producing up to 25% of the country’s infant formula.
“At Abbott, we pride ourselves on helping people with diabetes check their glucose levels, provide critical coronavirus tests and make lifesaving cardiac devices,” Ford wrote in the editorial.
“And yes, we take great pride in manufacturing nutrition and milk to feed America’s children, even the most vulnerable,” Ford wrote. “But the past few months have upset us as much as you have, and so I would like to say: We are sorry to every family we have let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated the shortage of infant formula in our country.”
Ford wrote that Abbott believed the voluntary recall “was the right thing to do.”
“We won’t take any chances when it comes to children’s health,” he wrote.
Four babies who were drinking Michigan plant formula milk were hospitalized with a bacterial infection. Two children died.
But in April, federal health officials told NBC News that the bacterial strains found in these children did not match the strains found at the Abbott facility.
“However, an FDA investigation found bacteria on our plant that we would not tolerate,” Ford wrote. “I have high expectations from this company, and we have failed to live up to them.”
The apology came hours after President Joe Biden signed the newly passed Infant Milk Access Act, which is intended to make it easier for families eligible for the federal WIC program to purchase milk. WIC is officially known as the Women’s, Infants, and Children’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program.
Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to deal with formula shortages, requiring suppliers to ship ingredients to infant formula manufacturers before any other companies might have ordered the same products.
On Sunday, US military aircraft are scheduled to transport 132 pallets of baby formula from Nestle to Indianapolis, Indiana, from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. It is expected that more equations will be transferred to US military aircraft at a later time.
In his op-ed on Saturday, Ford outlined the steps Abbott took in response to the deficiency, writing that he knew that “some children have been hospitalized with a deficiency of EleCare, a specialized formula for babies who cannot digest other formulas and milk.”
“Due to their unique needs, children who lose access to them may need medical supervision until formula is returned to shelves,” Ford wrote. “I will not be put into words – this is tragic and heartbreaking, and it is consuming my thoughts and those of my colleagues.”
Ford said Abbott “will prioritize EleCare when resuming manufacturing and get that out the door first,” while simultaneously creating a $5 million fund for families affected by EleCare shortages with treatment and living expenses.
He also wrote that consumers “can feel secure when purchasing any Abbott product they find on store shelves.”
“What is available has passed rigorous inspections and is ready for your children,” he wrote.
Ford noted that Abbott has shifted production lines for its adult nutritional products at a plant in Columbus, Ohio, “to prioritize production of ready-to-feed liquid infant formula.”
“We have shipped millions of cans of our most widely used infant formula powder from an FDA approved facility in Ireland to the United States since its recall,” he wrote.
Ford said Abbott expects to restart the Sturgis plan in the first week of June, after entering a degree of approval with the Federal Food and Drug Administration.
After the factory reopens, he wrote, it will take six to eight weeks before formula milk from the facility will be available on store shelves.
But he also said, “When we operate our Michigan facility at full capacity, we will double our current production of infant formula for the United States.”
And by the end of June, we will be providing Americans with more formula than we did in January before the impeachment.
“These steps we are taking will not end the suffering of families today,” Ford wrote. “Some solutions will take weeks, others will take longer, but we won’t rest until it’s done. I won’t rest. I want everyone to trust us to do what’s right, and I know that has to be paid back.”
Read the full Washington Post editorial here.