Abbott plant in Sturgis, Michigan on May 13, 2022.
Jeff Kowalski | AFP | Getty Images
Abbott Laboratories CEO Robert Ford apologized Saturday in a new article for his company’s role in a nationwide shortage of infant formula, which this week prompted Congress and the Biden administration to take emergency action to address it.
Ford also detailed the steps the company is taking to stem the shortage and promised, “We’re making significant investments to ensure this never happens again.”
Ford’s apology Washington Post article noted the shortage was caused by the company’s recall in February of a formula made at Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan, after federal health officials found potentially deadly bacteria there. The plant was responsible for the production of up to 25% of infant formula in the country.
“We at Abbott are very proud to help people with diabetes check their glucose levels, provide critical coronavirus testing, and make life-saving heart devices,” Ford wrote in the article.
“And yes, we are very proud to make nutrition and formula to feed America’s infants, including some of the most vulnerable,” Ford wrote. “But the last few months have grieved us as much as you, and so I want to say: we are sorry for every family that we have let down since our self-imposed recall has aggravated the situation of our nation. lack of baby food.”
Ford wrote that Abbott believed the voluntary recall “was the right thing to do”.
“We will not take risks when it comes to the health of children,” he wrote.
Four babies who drank formula from the Michigan plant were hospitalized with bacterial infections. Two babies died.
But in April Federal health officials told NBC News that the bacterial strains found in these infants did not match those found at the Abbott facility.
“However FDA investigation actually found bacteria in our factory which we will not tolerate. I have high hopes for this company and we didn’t live up to them,” Ford wrote.
The apology comes hours after President Joe Biden signed into law the recently passed Infant Formula Access Act, which aims to make it easier for families eligible for the federal WIC program to buy formula. WIC is officially known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to deal with infant formula shortages by requiring suppliers to ship ingredients to infant formula makers ahead of any other companies that might order the same products.
On Sunday, a US military plane is due to deliver 132 pallets of Nestle infant formula to Indianapolis, Indiana, from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. More of the mixture is expected to be delivered later on US military aircraft.
In an op-ed on Saturday, Ford spoke about the steps taken by Abbott in response to the shortage, writing that he knew “some babies were hospitalized for lack of EleCare, a specialized formula for babies who cannot digest other formulas and milk.” “
“Given their unique needs, children who have lost access to it may need medical supervision until formula is back on the shelves,” Ford wrote. “I won’t mince words – it’s tragic and heartbreaking and it consumes my thoughts and those of my colleagues.”
Ford said Abbott “will prioritize EleCare when resuming production and release it first,” and in the meantime set up a $5 million fund for families affected by the lack of EleCare to cover medical and living expenses.
He also wrote that consumers “can feel secure buying any Abbott product you find on store shelves.”
“What’s available has been rigorously tested and is ready for your kids,” he wrote.
Ford noted that Abbott has retooled production lines for its adult nutrition products at its Columbus, Ohio plant “to make ready-to-drink liquid infant formula a priority.”
“And since the recall, we have airlifted millions of cans of our most widely used dry infant formula from an FDA-approved facility in Ireland to the United States,” he wrote.
Ford said Abbott expects to restart the Sturgis plan in the first week of June after getting approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration.
He wrote that after the plant reopens, it will be six to eight weeks before the blend from the plant hits store shelves.
But he also said, “When we get our Michigan plant up and running, we will more than double our current production of dry infant formula for the United States.”
“By the end of June, we will ship more infant formula to Americans than we did in January before the recall.
“These steps we are taking will not end the struggle of families today,” Ford wrote. “Some decisions will take weeks, others will take longer, but we will not rest until this is done. I won’t calm down. I want everyone to believe we’re doing the right thing and I know it needs to be brought back.”