Spanberger Demands Answers from Formula Manufacturer Abbott on Timetable for Resuming Baby Formula Production, Combating Nationwide Shortage

The Congresswoman Has Recently Pressed the White House, Formula Manufacturers to Immediately Address this Crisis, Take Commonsense Steps to Get Formula Back on the Shelves in Virginia & Across the Country

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today is calling on baby formula manufacturer Abbott Laboratories to provide answers about the company’s efforts to increase production of formula amid the ongoing nationwide formula shortage. Abbott is the leading supplier of formula in the United States.

In a letter sent to Abbott Laboratories CEO Robert E. Ford today, Spanberger demanded more information about the steps Abbott is taking — allegedly — to increase supply at its U.S. manufacturing facilities. Additionally, she requested more information about upgrades to Abbott’s Sturgis plant, which has been closed due to safety concerns, and the timetable for its reopening. She also pressed the company to improve its communication with the American public in the coming days and weeks regarding its progress.

“As a result of ongoing supply chain complications, the recall of Abbott products, and closure of the Sturgis plant, parents across the country are facing a crisis,” said Spanberger. “For the first week of May 2022, the out-of-stock percentage for baby formula nationwide was 43 percent. There are reports across the country of parents driving hours in search of formula or rationing food to feed their babies — some even resorting to making homemade formula, diluting formula, using recalled formula, or introducing solid foods earlier than recommended.”

Spanberger continued, “I look forward to the May 25, 2022 U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on this topic to learn more about Abbott’s management of the Sturgis facility leading up to the infant illnesses. However, parents across America are panicking now — and we must understand the scope of current efforts to remedy this dire shortage.”

Click here to read the letter, and the full letter text is below.

Dear Mr. Ford:

I write to you today to request information about Abbott’s efforts to increase production of infant formula amid the ongoing nationwide infant formula shortage. Over the past week, I have heard from panicked parents across my district searching for formula to feed their children. As a Member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee – which oversees various nutrition programs – I am also particularly concerned about the impact of these shortages on program recipients.

In February 2022, Abbott voluntarily recalled several powder formulas – Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare – produced at its Sturgis, Michigan plant due to concerns about Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella Newport in infants who had consumed powder infant formula manufactured in the facility. Five of these infants fell ill and two tragically died. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been investigating these cases and the Abbott Sturgis, Michigan facility – which remains closed.

As a result of ongoing supply chain complications, the recall of Abbott products, and closure of the Sturgis plant, parents across the country are facing a crisis. For the first week of May 2022, the out-of-stock percentage for baby formula nationwide was 43 percent. There are reports across the country of parents driving hours in search of formula or rationing food to feed their babies – some even resorting to making homemade formula, diluting formula, using recalled formula, or introducing solid foods earlier than recommended.

Abbott is the leading supplier of formula in the United States, holding a market share of about 42 percent. Furthermore, Abbott contracts with a majority of the state Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) agencies – which serve more than 1.2 million infants.

The FDA has stated the agency is coordinating with Abbott to address supply shortages to bring safe products to the U.S. market. Given Abbott’s ongoing coordination with the federal government, and outsized role as one of the major baby formula producers, I respectfully request you respond to the following questions:

  1. In a May 11, 2022 press release, Abbott mentioned that the company has “been working to increase supply at our other FDA-registered facilities.” What steps has Abbott been taking to increase supply at the other four facilities serving the U.S. market? Please be specific.
  1. In the same May 11, 2022 press release, Abbott mentions that “subject to FDA approval, [Abbott] could restart the [Sturgis] site within two weeks.” Earlier in your statement, you mention that Abbott has “been making upgrades to the plant.” Could you please clarify whether these upgrades are completed and if there are additional FDA-recommended actions Abbott should take to ensure the facility can safely reopen?
  1. In an April 15, 2022 update, Abbott mentions importing Similac daily from their FDA-registered Cootehill, Ireland facility. Is Abbott still importing this formula on a daily basis? If not, how frequently?
  1. In the same April update, Abbott mentioned making “significant changes” to prioritize production of Similac Ready-to-Feed liquid formula and that this product will be “available on retail shelves and online soon.” Please provide an update on the amount of liquid formula produced in May 2022 compared to April 2022. Are these products currently available online, and how does the price point compare to powder formula?
  1. How is Abbott communicating product availability to consumers? For instance, is there a hotline or online resource available to connect consumers with product availability at retailers?
  1. Please describe Abbott’s coordination with the other major formula manufacturers to increase the supply of formula.
  1. Before Abbott’s press release on May 11, 2022, the last update provided to the public was on April 29, 2022. Given the recent dramatic decline in supply, how does Abbott intend to communicate with the public in the coming days and weeks about this ongoing situation?

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter and your swift response. Additionally, I look forward to the May 25, 2022 U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on this topic to learn more about Abbott’s management of the Sturgis facility leading up to the infant illnesses. However, parents across America are panicking now – and we must understand the scope of current efforts to remedy this dire shortage.

BACKGROUND

Spanberger has been focused on responding to the concerns of Virginia parents and families during this shortage — and she has called for immediate action to mitigate the crisis. In two calls with the White House this week, Spanberger urged the White House to consider cracking down on price gouging, cutting red tape to make sure shelves can be stocked, and increasing imports of safe formula from abroad.

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