Michigan baby formula plant closure squeezes supply

(The Center Square) – Michigan moms and babies relying on a steady supply of baby formula are joining families nationwide stymied by supply chain issues, product recalls, and record 40-year high inflation that’s left many baby formula shelves bare.

Lynn Sutfin, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman, said the problem affected about 85% of the more than 200,000 people in the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program that gives recipients about $30 to $112 or more per month.

The state will prioritize “meeting our families’ most critical and immediate needs,” Sutfin said in a statement.

WIC is a federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program of the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture that serves low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women and children up to age five.

Datasembly, a company that tracks real-time product pricing, says the baby formula stockpile is 43% of the regular supply.

“This issue has been compounded by supply chain challenges, product recalls and historic inflation,” Datasembly CEO Ben Reich said in a statement. “The category started to see stocking challenges beginning in July 2021, and the situation has continued to worsen into 2022.”

On February 17, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to use certain powder infant formula from Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis plant.

The FDA said Abbott recalled the products after the common environmental bacterium Cronobacter sakazakii was alleged to have killed two infants and sickened others.

“We recognize that many consumers have been unable to access infant formula and critical medical foods they are accustomed to using and are frustrated by their inability to do so," FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf said in a statement. "We are doing everything in our power to ensure there is adequate product available where and when they need it."

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Holland Republican, tweeted a picture of nearly bare shelves in Grandville.

"This was the scene yesterday morning at a local store in Grandville, Michigan. It’s unacceptable that the Biden Administration is sending pallets of hard to find baby formula to the border but families in Michigan are facing shortages."

WHAT TO DO

Those who bought potentially recalled formula and have opted in to receive WIC text/phone notifications were notified and given steps to redeem benefits.

Alternate formula options have been temporarily added to the list of WIC-approved products.

WIC clients should return the recalled formula to any retail store or can request a refund here. Parents should reach their pediatrician with any questions.

Meanwhile, Abbott is working to reopen the Michigan factory.

"Subject to FDA approval, we could restart the site within two weeks. We would begin production of EleCare, Alimentum and metabolic formulas first and then begin production of Similac and other formulas. From the time we restart the site, it will take six to eight weeks before product is available on shelves," Abbott said in a statement.

"We know the recall has worsened an already existing industry-wide infant formula shortage in the U.S. and we've been seeing and hearing the stress and despair of parents who are facing empty shelves. We deeply regret the situation," Abbott said.

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