US to increase baby formula imports to alleviate shortages after Abbott Nutrition recall

US to increase baby formula imports to alleviate shortages after Abbott Nutrition recall

Baby formula goes on sale at a large store on January 13, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson | Getty Images

The U.S. will increase imports of baby food to ease a nationwide shortage, senior Biden administration officials said Thursday.

The infant formula shortage was triggered in part by the closure of a Michigan manufacturing facility after two infants who consumed its products contracted bacterial infections and died.

The Food and Drug Administration will announce specific measures to increase formula imports in the coming days, officials said. The US produces 98% of the infant formula it consumes. Chile, Ireland, Mexico and the Netherlands are potential sources of additional imports, officials said.

Abbott Nutrition, the nation’s largest baby formula maker, issued a recall of several formulas containing Kraft in February. The move came after four infants consuming products from the Sturgis, Michigan, plant were hospitalized with infections caused by the Cronobacter sakazakii bacterium. Two of the babies died.

Abbott closed the Sturgis plant and recalled its Similac PM 60/40, Similac, Alimentum and EleCare fueled formulas manufactured at the Michigan plant. The company said Cronobacter sakazakii was found at the facility but not in areas where it manufactures products. According to Abbott, all finished products tested were negative for the bacteria.

The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have instructed parents to check Abbott’s website to see if their product is being recalled. The FDA is advising consumers not to use recalled Similac, Alimentum, or EleCare powdered infant formula.

The plant closure and recall has parents scrambling to find baby formula.

According to Datasembly, a company that tracks retail sales data, 43% of baby formula items in stores across the US were sold out in the first week of May. Abbott said it could get the Sturgis plant back online within two weeks if FDA approval is given, but it will take up to eight weeks for products to hit stores.

President Joe Biden met with Walmart, Target, Reckitt and Gerber earlier Thursday to discuss ways to alleviate the shortage. Biden has asked the Federal Trade Commission to use its powers to monitor reports of price gouging amid the shortage, and the Justice Department is working with attorneys general to crack down on predatory behavior by retailers, administration officials said.

The CDC has not identified any other cases of infection linked to the power formula and has closed its investigation. It has urged state health officials to report any Cronobacter infections found in infants.

Cronobacter can cause blood infections or cause swelling of the linings around the brain and spinal cord, according to the CDC. Symptoms include fever, poor diet, excessive crying, very low energy, and seizures.

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