A member of the Biden administration wrote a letter to the CEO of Abbott Laboratories on Friday, expressing "grave concern" of the nationwide availability of baby formula amid a deepening shortage that is leaving Americans scrambling to find the product.
Thomas Vilsack, secretary of agriculture, wrote a letter to the CEO of Abbott Laboratories, Robert Ford, stating that the company needs to "do more" to ensure that lower-income Americans have access to baby formula.
Abbott is the primary provider of baby formula in the government's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which Vilsack says puts the company in a "privileged position" of "critical responsibility" to help address the baby formula shortage.
"While USDA appreciates the work you have done to replace impacted Abbott products and shift production to non-impacted facilities to attempt to mitigate supply impacts, we believe that Abbott can do more to ensure that WIC participants in states that have contracted with Abbott have access to formula," Vilsack writes in the letter.
Vilsack said that while Abbott has provided rebates for alternative products to ensure that WIC participants have continued access to baby formula, he says the Department of Agriculture is concerned that the company is only providing the rebates on a month-to-month basis, which sets up uncertainty for the WIC program and participants.
The secretary of agriculture is asking the company to "extend these rebate commitments for all contracted products" through "at least" August 31, 2022.
Abbott Nutrition said in a statement on Wednesday that it could be months before stock from its Sturgis, Michigan plant will reach store shelves after a voluntary recall forced the company to cease operations at the facility.
"We understand the situation is urgent – getting Sturgis up and running will help alleviate this shortage," the company said. "Subject to [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] 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."
The plant closed in February when the company issued a voluntary recall of specific powdered formulas that were made at the Sturgis facility after four complaints that four babies who consumed products made from the plant got sick with a bacterial infection, and two of them died.
Abbott said in the statement that "after a thorough review of all available data, there is no evidence to link our formulas to these infant illnesses."
FOX Business' Breck Dumas and Daniella Genovese contributed to this report