Abbott Baby Formula Plant halts production again, this time due to flooding

A baby formula factory in Sturgis, Michigan, which resumed production less than two weeks ago after a month-long shutdown that exacerbated a nationwide shortage, has been shut down again after parts of the plant were flooded during a severe storm.

The company that operates the facility, Abbott Nutrition, said Wednesday that it was forced to halt production of its EleCare specialty formula at Sturgis, one of its five manufacturing facilities, after severe weather ripped through southwest Michigan on Monday.

In February, Abbott closed the facility and recalled lots of its Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas after the Food and Drug Administration received four consumer complaints about bacterial infections linked to the formulas.

On Wednesday, the company said it was assessing the damage from the storm and cleaning up the facility, which would delay production and distribution by a few weeks, but that it had adequate stocks of EleCare and most of its specialty and metabolic formulas, to meet demand by then new formula is available.

“These products will be distributed to consumers in need in coordination with healthcare professionals,” it said.

Robert M. Califf, the FDA commissioner, said the agency was notified of the discontinuation, but given the increased imports of formulas and production by Abbott and other manufacturers, a major impact is not expected.

“While this is an unfortunate setback and a reminder that natural weather events can also cause unforeseen supply chain disruptions, I want to reassure consumers that efforts across government to increase supply mean we will have more than enough product to meet current demand” he said in a statement on Twitter.

He has made similar remarks in a Senate committee hearing on Thursday that the FDA is working closely with Abbott to get the facility back online “as soon as possible.”

The storm cut power and caused wind damage, and the city’s municipal airport recorded 1.5 inches of rain, the Sturgis Journal reported.

The plant shutdown was the latest twist in the baby formula shortage in the United States, which began earlier this year when pandemic-related supply chain issues, including a shortage of some ingredients, made it difficult for parents to find formula.

After the February shutdown, Abbott said it increased production at other manufacturing plants in the United States and at one in Ireland.

Abbott and other manufacturers have ramped up production as the government relaxes import regulations. “This means that even before production resumes at the Sturgis facility, the total amount of formula available will exceed pre-recall demand for formula,” said Dr. Califf, the commissioner of the FDA.

On June 4, Abbott said it had resumed production of EleCare at the Sturgis plant for an expected consumer release around June 20 and that it was “working hard” to resume production of Similac and other formulas. But that timing seems unclear after the flood.

“Once the facility is sanitized again and production resumes, we will restart EleCare production, followed by specialty and metabolic formulas,” the company said in its statement late Wednesday. “In parallel, we will work to resume Similac production at the plant as soon as possible.”

The shortage of baby food threatened to become a political and public health disaster. President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to increase production and authorized the use of Department of Defense aircraft for Operation Fly Formula.

In May, the first of a series of international shipments of infant formula was flown to the United States under the program to speed up imports and increase inventories. The seventh delivery will take place on Thursday, when Nestlé formula will be flown from Switzerland to Louisville, Kentucky, the White House said.

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