Robert Ford is chairman and chief executive of Abbott.
We at Abbott take great pride in helping people with diabetes check their glucose, providing critical coronavirus testing and making lifesaving heart devices. And yes, we take great pride in manufacturing nutrition and formula to feed America’s infants, including our most vulnerable. But the past few months have distressed us as they have you, and so I want to say: We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage.
We believe our voluntary recall was the right thing to do. We will not take risks when it comes to the health of children. The data collected during the investigation, genetic sequencing, retained product samples and available product from the four complaints did not find any connection between our products and the four reported illnesses in children. However, the FDA’s investigation did discover a bacteria in our plant that we will not tolerate. I have high expectations of this company, and we fell short of them.
We know that some children have been hospitalized because of the lack of EleCare, a specialized formula for children who cannot digest other formulas and milks. Given their unique needs, children who lose access to it can require medical supervision until the formula is returned to the shelves. I will not mince words — this is tragic and heartbreaking, and it is consuming my thoughts and those of my colleagues.
Our highest priority is getting babies safe, quality formula they need as fast as possible. Our customers want to know when shelves will be full again, whether the product they’re buying is safe, what will prevent this from happening again, and what we’re doing to help parents now. So, here’s what we’re doing.
First, for the families of those children hospitalized, we wish we could provide them the formula they need today and are working to identify ways to do so. We will prioritize EleCare when manufacturing resumes and get that out the door first. In the meantime, we’re establishing a $5 million fund that will be independently administered to help these families with medical and living expenses as they weather this storm.
Secondly, you can feel safe buying any Abbott product you find on the store shelves. What is available has passed rigorous inspections and is ready for your babies.
Third, we have been taking serious steps to relieve the supply crisis. We converted lines of our adult nutrition products at our Columbus, Ohio, plant to prioritize production of ready-to-feed liquid infant formula. And we have been air-shipping millions of cans of our most widely used powdered infant formula from an FDA-approved facility in Ireland to the United States since the recall.
As you may have heard, we also entered into a consent decree with the FDA related to our closed facility. This was a major step toward quickly and safely reopening. We expect we’ll be able to restart the facility by the first week in June. From the time we restart production at the site, it will take six to eight weeks before product is available on shelves. When we are operating our Michigan facility at full capacity, we will more than double our current production of powdered infant formula for the United States. By the end of June, we will be supplying more formula to Americans than we were in January before the recall.
Finally, we are making significant investments to ensure this never happens again. We plan to expand both capacity and redundancy. This will increase the nation’s formula supply and create the redundancy we need to never have to stop production of critical products such as EleCare again. And we will similarly invest in upgrading our safety and quality processes and equipment.
These steps we’re taking won’t end the struggles of families today. Some solutions will take weeks, others will take longer, but we will not rest until it is done. I will not rest. I want everyone to trust us to do what is right, and I know that must be earned back.
By: Robert Ford