Abbott CEO amid formula shortage: 'We're sorry to every family we've let down'

Robert Ford, CEO of Abbott, apologized for the role the company played in a nationwide shortage of baby formula in a May 21 op-ed for The Washington Post

Abbott Nutrition voluntarily recalled some of its most popular powdered formulas in February and shut down its plant in Sturgis, Mich., after four babies who had consumed some of Abbott's products became sick with bacterial infections. Two of the babies later died.

Investigations by the FDA, CDC and Abbott found no conclusive evidence to link Abbott's formulas to the infant illnesses, the company said. The recall has caused problems nationwide given that Abbott controls 48 percent of the market.

Mr. Ford stood by the decision to issue a voluntary recall in February. 

"We will not take risks when it comes to the health of children," he wrote. "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." 

Mr. Ford said the hospitalization of children because of the lack of EleCare, a specialized formula for children who cannot digest other formulas, are "tragic and heartbreaking" and consuming his thoughts and those of colleagues. To support families' medical and living expenses throughout the shortage, Abbott is establishing a $5 million fund that will be independently administered. The company is also prioritizing EleCare when manufacturing resumes to get that product out the door first, he noted. 

The FDA has since reached an agreement with Abbott to reopen the facility in Sturgis. Mr. Ford said the company expects to be able to safely reopen the facility by the first week in June, and it will take six to eight weeks after reopening before the product is available on store shelves.

In the meantime, a shipment of 35 tons of Nestlé Health Science baby formula arrived May 22 in Indianapolis on a U.S. military aircraft from Germany to address a nationwide shortage, CNN reports. The shipment will provide enough formula for 9,000 babies and 18,000 toddlers for one week. It is the first shipment under Operation Fly Formula, an initiative from the Biden administration to quickly increase formula supplies amid a national shortage. The administration is also using the Defense Production Act to give two companies priority on ingredients or equipment necessary to manufacture formula.

Read Mr. Ford's op-ed in full here.


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