COLUMBUS, Ohio — Empty shelves and a search for baby formula. The shortage bubbled up two years ago, with many other disruptions in labor, transportation, and raw materials during the pandemic.
Then, this February, a warning from the FDA for parents to stop buying certain formulas manufactured at an Abbott Nutrition plant in Sturgis, Michigan after child illnesses and even two deaths were reportedly linked to the plant and certain Abbott made formulas. The recall was voluntary.
“A comprehensive investigation by Abbott, FDA and CDC found no evidence that our formulas caused infant illnesses,” in a statement Abbott released on Twitter. “Specifically... CDC concluded its investigation with no findings of a link between our formulas and infant illnesses."
“We've been working on this really since complaints came in about a particular plant,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf. “We would expect this to gradually get better over the next several weeks. And within really several months to be completely up to normal.”
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) heard about the deaths of two children from Ohio possibly related to the recall. Brown and Senator Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) wrote a letter to the FDA asking for a timeline, why there was a delay in issuing a voluntary recall and why a mandatory recall was immediately launched.
“It's so important the FDA moves quickly,” said Brown. “They get Abbott to withdraw from the market, what they need to recall what they need to, but then we all work with Abbott and other suppliers to make sure that that there are a safe baby formula on the shelves of grocery stores.”
A whistleblower report by CNN outlined concerns to the FDA months before any action was taken.
The FDA did not respond to the senators’ letter by April 29th or to-date, according to Brown’s office staff.
A legal agreement with Abbot and he FDA was announced to restart its shuttered Michigan plant saying the plant could be back open in two weeks.
Major retailers and pharmacies have limited the amount of infant formula a family could buy at a time. Ohio’s Attorney General says his office is watching the marketplace to make sure purchases of baby formula online or from other sources are not price gouged.
“We don't know of any adulterated product out there, but when prices start getting kinky, that's something to be concerned about buying something from a retailer is way different than buying something off of Craigslist from a stranger," said Attorney General Yost. “I'm very concerned because we saw the same kind of thing happening with insulin, where people were cutting their insulin and diluting it by half, trying to make it stretch because they couldn't afford it. And we saw horrible outcomes from that. The same kind of thing can happen with baby formula. You've got to do it by the concentrations that are on the label.”
The Attorney General's Office has not received any complaints over price gouging with baby formula in Ohio, but Yost want consumers to report the “egregious cases.”
Ohio does not have a law to prevent price gouging, only protection against deceptive or unfair transactions under the Consumer Sales Practices Act.