Reviews | Abbott CEO Robert Ford: What we’re doing to address the formula shortage.

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Robert Ford is president and chief executive officer of Abbott.

At Abbott, we take great pride in helping people with diabetes check their blood sugar, providing critical coronavirus testing and making life-saving heart devices. And yes, we take great pride in making foods and formulas to feed America’s infants, including our most vulnerable. But the past few months have devastated us as they have devastated you, and so I want to say: we are sorry for all the families we have abandoned since our voluntary recall exacerbated the shortage of infant formula in our country.

We believe that our volunteerism recall was the right thing to do. We will not take any risks with regard to the health of the children. Data collected during the investigation, genetic sequencing, retained product samples and available product from the four complaints found no link between our products and the four reported illnesses in children. However, the The FDA investigation discovered a bacterium in our plant that we will not tolerate. I have high expectations of this company and we did not meet them.

We know that some children have been hospitalized due to lack of EleCare, a specialized formula for children who cannot digest other formulas and milks. Given their unique needs, children who no longer have access to it may need medical supervision until the formula is back on the shelves. I won’t mince words – it’s tragic and heartbreaking, and it occupies my thoughts and those of my colleagues.

Our top priority is to get babies the safe, quality formula they need as quickly as possible. Our customers want to know when the shelves will be full again, if the product they are buying is safe, what will prevent it from happening again, and what we are doing to help parents now. So here’s what we do.

First, for the families of these hospitalized children, we want to be able to provide them with the formula they need today and we are working to identify ways to do so. We will prioritize EleCare when resuming manufacturing and release it first. In the meantime, we are setting up a $5 million fund that will be independently administered to help these families cover their medical and living expenses as they weather this storm.

Second, you can feel safe buying any Abbott product you find on store shelves. What’s available has passed rigorous inspections and is ready for your babies.

Third, we have taken serious steps to alleviate the supply crisis. We converted our adult nutrition product lines at our Columbus, Ohio plant to prioritize the production of ready-to-use liquid infant formula. And since the recall, we’ve air-shipped millions of boxes of our most-used powdered infant formula from an FDA-approved facility in Ireland to the United States.

As you may have heard, we have also entered into a decree of consent with the FDA regarding our closed facility. This was a major step towards a quick and safe reopening. We hope to be able to restart the installation by the first week of June. From the moment we restart production on the site, it will take six to eight weeks before the product is available on the shelves. When we operate our Michigan plant at full capacity, we will more than double our current production of powdered infant formula destined for the United States. By the end of June, we will be providing more formula to Americans than in January before the recall.

Finally, we are making significant investments so that this never happens again. We plan to increase both capacity and redundancy. This will increase the nation’s formula supply and create the redundancy we need so we never have to stop production of critical products like EleCare again. Likewise, we will invest in upgrading our safety and quality processes and equipment.

These actions we are taking will not end the struggles of families today. Some solutions will take weeks, others will take longer, but we won’t rest until it’s done. I will not rest. I want everyone to trust us to do the right thing, and I know that has to be earned in return.

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