Abbott Plant Resumes Making Infant Formula

Company says it will start with a specialty product for children with allergies
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2022 7:20 PM CDT
Updated Jun 4, 2022 2:20 PM CDT
For Formula Shortage, Biden Invokes Defense Production Act
The Abbott Laboratories manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Mich., went back into production Saturday.   (Brandon Watson/Sturgis Journal via AP, File)

Update: The Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan began producing infant formula again Saturday. The company said it had met the requirements of its agreement with the federal government to reopen the plant. Among other things, the company had to have an outside expert review plant operations and legal compliance, the Washington Post reports. Abbott said it will concentrate first on making EleCare, a specialty formula for children with allergies that it expects to make available around June 20. "We will ramp production as quickly as we can while meeting all requirements," Abbott said in a statement. Our story from May 18 follows:

President Biden on Wednesday announced a series of moves to resolve the nation's infant formula shortage, starting with invoking the Defense Production Act. The law, enacted in 1950 during the Korean War, gives the president wide-ranging power to set companies' priorities during a crisis. In this case, CNBC reports, Biden is ordering suppliers of ingredients used to make formula to send them first to formula manufacturers—even if companies in other industries have already ordered the same material from the suppliers. Biden invoked the act early in his term, as well, to deal with the pandemic.

In a video, Biden said the Pentagon will use commercial aircraft to ferry formula from other countries, an effort he called Operation Fly Formula, per CNN. White House officials said the Defense Department will use contracts with commercial cargo airlines to pick up products that have met FDA standards. "Bypassing regular air freighting routes" will speed the distribution process, the White House said. In the video, Biden said he's told his administration "to do everything possible to ensure there's enough safe baby formula and that it's quickly reaching families that need it the most."

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Pressure on Biden has been building as the supply of formula has been running dry. Problems at a Michigan plant owned by Abbott are largely to blame for the shortage, and the administration reached a deal with the company Monday to get it back into production. Now, congressional Democrats are attacking Abbott for its decisions, per the Washington Post. Instead of using its record revenue on improving plant safety, they say, Abbott put the money into purchasing its shares. "As Abbott spent billions buying back its own stock, it appears that it failed to make necessary repairs to fix a critical manufacturing plant," Sen. Ron Wyden wrote to the company. An Abbott spokesperson said the buybacks aren't hurting the company's efforts to reopen the plant. (More infant formula stories.)

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