Baby formula maker flies in supplies to address 'dangerous' shortages

10 May 2022

A key US manufacturer of baby food has been forced to ship product by air from its plant in Ireland to alleviate drastic shortages following a contamination incident and the deaths of two infants.

Abbott Nutrition, the main supplier of baby formula to many state government programmes for low income families, shut its factory in Michigan in February after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began an investigation when two infants died and two fell ill.

Abbott, which has voluntarily recalled three of its formula products, said it had increased shipments from its plant in Cootehill, Ireland, to alleviate shortages. 

It said: “We're air-shipping products from this facility into the US daily and the product is being restocked regularly.”

One of the children who died tested positive for ​​cronobacter sakazakii, which cause sepsis or meningitis in infants, while the other tested positive for salmonella. However the FDA concluded there is not enough information to “definitively link” the instance of salmonella to the formula.

Major US pharmacies including CVS and Walgreens have restricted sales of baby formula in response to panic buying.

In six states – Iowa, Missouri, Texas, Tennessee, North Dakota and South Dakota – more than half of available baby formula in stores was sold out the week commencing 24 April, according to data by research firm Datasembly.

The shortages have resulted in the price of baby formula rising by 7% for consumers.

Ben Reich, CEO of Datasembly, said: “Inflation, supply chain shortages, and product recalls have brought an unprecedented amount of volatility for baby formula.

“We expect to continue to see the baby formula category being dramatically affected by these conditions. Baby formula stock, which has been one of the more affected categories so far in 2022, and one that will continue to demonstrate higher than average out-of-stock levels.”

Tom Cotton, Republican senator, wrote to the FDA to insist they alleviate pressures caused by the “dangerous shortage”, which was amounting to a “national crisis”. 

He said: “Millions of babies rely on formula for their nutritional needs. Major retailers are limiting the amount of infant formula customers can purchase per visit, and families are being forced to pay higher prices and fees to obtain adequate food for their child. This places an additional burden on hardworking Americans already spending more on necessities due to inflation.

“I hope that the FDA understands the extraordinary strain this crisis has placed on parents and children alike and is doing everything in its power to reopen the Abbott plant.” 

Abbott said: “Millions of parents rely on our formula to feed their babies. And we know that our recent recall caused additional stress and anxiety in an already challenging situation of a global supply shortage. We are working hard to help moms, dads and caregivers get the high-quality nutrition they need for their babies.

“Abbott is working closely with the FDA to restart operations at the Sturgis, Michigan, facility. We continue to make progress on corrective actions and will be implementing additional actions as we work toward addressing items related to the recent recall. In the meantime, we are working to increase the supply of infant formula by prioritising infant formula production at our facilities that provide products to the US market.”

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