Abbott Laboratories CEO Robert Ford described the “serious steps” his company is taking to address the baby formula shortage, which he said was “exacerbated” by the company’s voluntary recall of its products for health reasons, in an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Saturday.
Abbott Nutrition, one of the largest producers of baby formula in the U.S., recalled several of its powdered baby formula products earlier this year following reports that four infants fell ill from the same rare infection after ingesting formula made at the company’s Sturgis, Mich., plant. The facility has been shutdown since February amid an investigation into safety concerns by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage,” Ford wrote in his opinion piece.
He continued: “We believe our voluntary recall was the right thing to do. We will not take risks when it comes to the health of children.”
Ford clarified that the infection contracted by the four infants, eventually killing two of them, was not found to be linked to Abbott’s products.
“The data collected during the investigation, genetic sequencing, retained product samples and available product from the four complaints did not find any connection between our products and the four reported illnesses in children. However, the FDA’s investigation did discover a bacteria in our plant that we will not tolerate,” wrote Ford. “I have high expectations of this company, and we fell short of them.”
Ford detailed the steps Abbott is taking to combat the shortage, including “rigorous inspections” of its products and accelerations of production processes.
He specifically addressed the impact of the shortage of Elecare, a type of infant formula specially made for babies with digestive problems.
“We will prioritize EleCare when manufacturing resumes and get that out the door first,” Ford wrote, adding that the company is creating a $5 million fund to help families whose children have been hospitalized because they don’t have access to the specialized product.
Ford said that Abbott has “been taking serious steps to relieve the supply crisis” at its own plants.
“We converted lines of our adult nutrition products at our Columbus, Ohio, plant to prioritize production of ready-to-feed liquid infant formula. And we have been air-shipping millions of cans of our most widely used powdered infant formula from an FDA-approved facility in Ireland to the United States since the recall,” he explained.
Earlier this week, Abbott Nutrition said it had reached an agreement with the FDA on a plan to restart operations at its shuttered Michigan plant. Ford wrote in his op-ed that the company expects to be able to reopen the facility by the first week of June, and get products produced there to retail shelves six to eight weeks after that.
“When we are operating our Michigan facility at full capacity, we will more than double our current production of powdered infant formula for the United States. By the end of June, we will be supplying more formula to Americans than we were in January before the recall,” Ford wrote.
He added: “Finally, we are making significant investments to ensure this never happens again. We plan to expand both capacity and redundancy. This will increase the nation’s formula supply and create the redundancy we need to never have to stop production of critical products such as EleCare again. And we will similarly invest in upgrading our safety and quality processes and equipment.”