Hopes US baby formula shortage could ease as key Abbott plant restarts

Factory in Sturgis, Michigan shut down in May after storms that produced torrential flooding

A key baby formula plant shut down by torrential rains last month has resumed operations, again spurring hope that the nationwide baby formula shortage could ease up.

Abbott Laboratories, the United States’ largest baby formula manufacturer, closed down production at its main plant in Sturgis, Michigan, on 16 June after storms that produced catastrophic flooding. That came only two weeks after it had resumed work following a shutdown in February prompted by a Food and Drug Administration investigation that found contamination at the facility.

But on 1 July, the plant had restarted production of EleCare, a specialty formula for infants with severe digestive problems and food allergies, Abbott spokesman John Koval told the Associated Press on Saturday.

Koval added that the plant was working to restart production of the leading brand Similac “as soon as we can”.

The plant suspended production of Similac and other brands in February, when the FDA investigation found contamination in the wake of four bacterial infections among infants who were fed powdered formula from the facility. Two of the babies died.

The shutdown and an accompanying recall of several baby formula brands caused supply chain disruption resulting in a nationwide shortage.

The Joe Biden White House eventually imported tens of thousands of pounds of baby formula from Europe to attempt to alleviate the shortage, and officials hoped that Abbott’s return in early June would further help restore the supply chain.

But the catastrophic rains a couple of weeks later put a damper on those hopes.

Even with Saturday’s news it was unclear when US store shelves might be once again packed with baby formula.

Abbott’s production woes have hit poorer families hardest because it provides formula to about half the infants who receive benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or Wic, which primarily aids low-income women and their children.

About half the infants who receive Wic benefits get their formula from Abbott, one of just four companies that produces about 90% of US baby formula.