Factory restart linked to US baby milk shortage

Manufacturer Abbott is restarting its large plant in Sturgis, Michigan. In particular, it will begin to sell one of its products, EleCare hypoallergenic milk, from around June 20.

The shortage of baby milk affecting the United States could ease this month with the reopening of a factory of Abbott, the American company at the heart of this crisis, which recently confused itself with excuses before Congress. Abbott announced in a statement on Saturday that it was restarting its large factory in Sturgis, Michigan (north), whose closure for several months is at the origin of the massive shortage.

The manufacturer specifies that the factory, after having fulfilled the conditions laid down by the American Medicines Agency (FDA), will in particular begin to sell one of its products, the hypoallergenic milk EleCare, from around June 20. Abbott controls 40% of the baby milk market in the United States.

The manufacturer assures that it is “working hard” to also relaunch the production of another brand very popular with American families, Similac, as well as the rest of its range. “We understand the urgent need for infant formula and our first priority is to get safe, high-quality milk to families across the United States,” reads its statement. The world’s leading power had been experiencing problems with the supply of baby milk for some time, linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, when Abbott announced in February a recall of products suspected of having caused the death of two infants, as well than the closure of its factory, triggering a severe shortage.

“We Let You Down”

The group has already apologized profusely during a congressional hearing. “We let you down,” Christopher Calamari, executive director of Abbott Nutrition, told parents facing shortages in late May during a hearing before a congressional committee. He pledged to “ensure that a shortage like this never happens again”.

The health authorities (the FDA) called the Sturgis plant unsanitary. Robert Califf, the head of the agency, spoke of “standing water in key equipment that has the potential for bacterial contamination”, “leaks on the roof” or even basic hygiene such as hand washing leaving to be desired.

According to figures from the IRI firm quoted by the Wall Street Journal, there was a shortage of 20 to 25% of baby milk in American stores last week. The shortage is explained “by the lack of competition in this industry”, reacted Robert Reich, professor of public policy at the University of Berkeley, on Twitter Wednesday.

“Most of the baby milk market is dominated by four companies. Abbott Nutrition has 40% of the market. When I say that monopolies are dangerous, that’s why”, was indignant this former Minister of Labor. To deal with the shortage, the Biden administration, accused of having reacted too late, set up a kind of airlift to bring in, by military planes, tons of baby milk produced abroad.

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