A baby formula plant in Sturgis, Michigan, closed once again amid “severe thunderstorms and heavy rains.”
The low supply of baby formula had been worsening for months, leading to multiple hospitalized babies and elevated prices for parents. Abbott Nutrition, which voluntarily recalled several baby formula products from the Michigan plant in February at the recommendation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), resumed production earlier this month and said that new inventory would hit shelves by June 20. Yet, the company revealed on Wednesday that production has again been halted.
“Severe thunderstorms and heavy rains came through southwestern Michigan on Monday evening, resulting in high winds, hail, power outages and flood damage throughout the area,” Abbott said in a statement. “These torrential storms produced significant rainfall in a short period of time — overwhelming the city’s stormwater system… and resulting in flooding in parts of the city, including areas of our plant.”
Abbott has therefore stopped production of EleCare — intended for children unable to digest other types of formula — while it evaluates damage and resanitizes the plant. “We have informed FDA and will conduct comprehensive testing in conjunction with the independent third party to ensure the plant is safe to resume production,” the company added. “This will likely delay production and distribution of new product for a few weeks.”
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf had told members of the Senate last month that he expects a “gradual improvement up to probably somewhere around two months until the shelves are replete again.” During its evaluation of the Michigan plant, the FDA found standing water, roof leaks, bacteria growths, and inadequate hygiene. “We knew that ceasing plant operations would create supply problems but we had no choice given the insanitary conditions,” Califf told lawmakers.
The baby formula shortage worsened this year but began much earlier due to supply chain fallout from COVID-19 and the lockdown-induced recession.
Abbott CEO Robert Ford apologized to the nation in a recent Washington Post opinion piece, telling parents “the past few months have distressed us as they have you.”
“We believe our voluntary recall was the right thing to do,” Ford wrote. “We will not take risks when it comes to the health of children. 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. I have high expectations of this company, and we fell short of them.”
President Joe Biden tried to address the baby formula shortage with “Operation Fly Formula,” through which the military is importing the product from Europe.
“Folks, I’m excited to tell you that the first flight from Operation Fly Formula is loaded up with more than 70,000 pounds of infant formula and about to land in Indiana,” Biden announced. “Our team is working around the clock to get safe formula to everyone who needs it.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday that the Biden administration had “nothing new” to add on the baby formula shortage.