Abbott CEO Apologizes For Washington Post Baby Food Shortage

The Abbott plant in Sturgis, Michigan, on May 13, 2022.

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Abbott Laboratories CEO Robert Ford apologized in a new op-ed on Saturday for his company’s role in a nationwide baby food shortage, prompting Congress and the Biden administration this week to take emergency measures to alleviate it.

Ford also detailed the steps the company is taking to address the shortfall, swearing, “We are making significant investments to ensure this never happens again.”

Ford’s apology in a Washington Post op-ed noted that the shortage was fueled by the company’s February recall of formula made at Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan, after federal health officials found a potentially deadly bacteria there. The factory was responsible for producing up to 25% of the country’s baby food.

“We at Abbott are proud to help people with diabetes control their glucose, deliver critical coronavirus tests and create life-saving heart devices,” Ford wrote in the opinion.

“And yes, we take great pride in producing nutrition and formulas to nourish American infants, including our most vulnerable,” Ford wrote. “But the past few months have upset us just like you, so I want to say, we’re sorry to every family we’ve lost since our voluntary recall has exacerbated the baby food shortage in our country.”

Ford wrote that Abbott believed the voluntary recall was “the right thing to do.”

“We will not take any risks when it comes to children’s health,” he wrote.

Four infants who drank formula from the Michigan plant were hospitalized with bacterial infections. Two of the babies died.

But in April, federal health officials told NBC News that the strains of bacteria found in those babies did not match the strains found at the Abbott facility.

“However, the FDA’s investigation has discovered a bacteria in our facility that we will not tolerate. I have high hopes for this company and we have not lived up to them,” Ford wrote.

The apology came hours after President Joe Biden signed the recently passed Access to Baby Formula Act, which is intended to make it easier for families eligible for the federal WIC program to purchase formulas. WIC is formally known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Biden on Wednesday appealed the Defense Production Act to address the formula shortage, requiring suppliers to ship ingredients to baby food manufacturers before other companies that may have ordered the same products.

On Sunday, US military planes are scheduled to fly 132 pallets of baby food from Nestle to Indianapolis, Indiana, from Ramstein Air Base in German. More formula is expected to be flown on US military aircraft at a later date.

In his op-ed Saturday, Ford outlined the steps Abbott has taken in response to the shortage, writing that he knew “some children have been hospitalized for the lack of EleCare, a specialized formula for children who cannot digest other formulas and milk.” .”

“Given their unique needs, children who don’t have access to it may require medical supervision until the formula is back on the shelves,” Ford wrote. “I won’t mince my words – this is tragic and heartbreaking, and it consumes my thoughts and those of my colleagues.”

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Ford said Abbott “will prioritize EleCare when production resumes and get it out the door first,” and in the meantime it has set up a $5 million fund for families affected by the lack of EleCare with medical expenses and living expenses.

He also wrote that consumers “can feel safe buying any Abbott product you find on store shelves.”

“What’s available has passed rigorous inspections and is ready for your babies,” he wrote.

Ford noted that Abbott has converted production lines for its adult nutrition products at a Columbus, Ohio facility “to prioritize the production of ready-to-use liquid infant formula.”

“And since the recall, we’ve shipped millions of cans of our most commonly used powdered infant formula to the United States from an FDA-cleared facility in Ireland,” he wrote.

Ford said Abbott expects to restart the Sturgis plan in the first week of June, after entering into a clearance degree with the federal Food and Drug Administration.

He wrote that after the factory reopens, it will take six to eight weeks for the facility’s formula to be available on store shelves.

But he also said, “If we run our Michigan plant at full capacity, we will more than double our current production of powdered infant formula for the United States.”

“We will ship more formulas to Americans by the end of June than we had in January before the recall.

“These steps we are taking will not end the struggles 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 that we’re doing the right thing, and I know it’s going to pay off.”

Read the full Washington Post op-ed here.

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