The Promising Update In The US Baby Formula Shortage Saga

The initial factory shutdown in February was responsible for triggering a nationwide baby formula recall and shortage earlier this year, and a second shutdown in mid-June was triggered by massive floods. Now, Abbott's factory in Sturgis, Michigan has told CBS News that it is open for business once again. CBS says the facility is responsible for manufacturing EleCare, which is meant to provide nutrition to babies with food and digestive sensibilities, and Abbott spokesman John Koval said in a written statement that the company was "working to restart Similac [another infant formula] production as soon as we can. We'll provide more information when we have it."

Politico had reported that the plant actually came back online on July 1 but the post-flood restart was not officially announced, nor would the Food and Drug Administration comment on the matter. The publication cites an industry source who explained the secrecy was driven by Abbott's need to ensure that "processes were running smoothly after previous disruptions before announcing anything publicly;" particularly since the plant has already had to stop operations once before.

The FDA is working to ensure a shortage doesn't happen again

The Abbott facility in Michigan had been responsible for meeting one-fifth of America's infant formula needs when four babies who were on their formula developed bacterial infections in September of 2021, per The Wall Street Journal. And while The Journal has reported that the findings over the cause of the babies' bacterial infection were inconclusive, during his testimony before Congress, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf painted a dire picture of a factory that was not fit to manufacture anything that could be consumed by humans, let alone babies, per CNBC. Inspectors reported finding five strains of Cronobacter from different areas in the factory, damaged equipment, and a leaky roof. The factory had been able to fix all these problems by the beginning of June, but record floods undid the work that had been put into the plant to get it up and running (via CBS News).

To prevent an infant formula shortage from happening again, the FDA has said it would look into keeping its option to import baby formula from Europe open. The government agency has proposed dialogues with current formula importers to "Provide a pathway for companies that import, sell, and/or distribute formula under the FDA's temporary enforcement discretion policy to continue to supply infant formula to the U.S."