The US is in the grip of an infant formula shortage that has left many parents struggling to access the crucial product for their babies.
In February, Abbott Laboratories initiated a recall of formula products, including from the Similac, Alimentum and EleCare brands, following reports of serious bacterial infections in four infants. The company also closed its Sturgis, Michigan, manufacturing plant.
According to Reuters, the recall worsened a shortage that began with consumer stockpiling in 2020 and pandemic supply chain issues.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cited five bacterial infections reported in babies that had been given Abbott’s formula, two of which died. However, Abbott has said its formula is “not likely the source of infection”.
In a statement released on 28 April, the company said: “Our focus has, is and always will be to ensure safe food for families who rely on us for our high-quality nutrition products”.
“Abbott takes employee concerns very seriously and we foster a culture of compliance to produce the best and highest-quality formula. We empower our employees to identify and report any issues that could compromise our product safety or quality, which comes before any other considerations.”
As a result of the worsening shortage, baby formula makers, including Danone and Nestlé, have stepped up shipments of their products to the US. Meanwhile, the FDA agreed on Monday to allow imports of baby formula from manufacturers that do not usually sell within the country.
Enfamil formula maker, Reckitt Benckiser, is also boosting its baby formula production by around 30% as well as making more frequent deliveries to US stores, an executive told Reuters on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the FDA has agreed on the steps needed to reopen the Sturgis plant with Abbott, which is hoping to resume operations within two weeks.
To address the shortage, President Biden has launched ‘Operation Fly Formula’ to get more formula to US stores as quickly as possible.
Under the operation, the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services are authorised to use Department of Defense-contracted commercial aircraft to pick up overseas formula that meets US health and safety standards.
On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill to provide $28 million in emergency funding to the FDA to help alleviate the current shortage and head off similar crises in future.
House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, cited by CNN, stated: “This bill is the first step to help restock shelves and end this shortage…Parents and caretakers across the country cannot wait – they need our support now. This bill takes important steps to restore supply in a safe and secure manner. Additionally, with these funds, FDA will be able to help to prevent this issue from occurring again.”
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