LOWELL, MA – Today, Assistant Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Katherine Clark (MA-05) and Congresswomen Lori Trahan (MA-03) and Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) led the Massachusetts Delegation, including Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Representatives Richard Neal (MA-01), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), William Keating (MA-09), Seth Moulton (MA-06), and Jake Auchincloss (MA-04), in sending a letter to Abbott Laboratories Chairman and CEO Robert Ford requesting information on the company’s plans to replenish its Similac baby formula in Massachusetts. Similac is the exclusive baby formula brand for Massachusetts residents using the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and widespread shortages have persisted following Abbott’s recall of Similac products.
“For Bay Staters, Abbott’s Similac baby formula is the exclusive brand for WIC. Thus, although Abbott’s recall has impacted states across the country, it has fallen disproportionately on states like Massachusetts that have contracted with Abbott,” the lawmakers wrote. “In fact, it has been nearly impossible for the parents of roughly 22,000 infants across our Commonwealth who rely on WIC to reliably find a supply of baby formula.”
In February, Abbott recalled Similac and other baby formula brands after the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received four complaints of infant illness, including two infants that later died, after consumption of products manufactured at the company’s factory in Sturgis, Michigan. Abbott announced an agreement yesterday with the FDA to reopen the facility, but the drop in production has left many Massachusetts families struggling to find formula that works for them. In communities like Lawrence where most families purchase formula using WIC, many stores only stock Similac and are facing extreme shortages.
“Clearly, this is unsustainable. The health of thousands of infants is depending on Abbott to rapidly address the serious issues at its plant in Sturgis, Michigan, that led to a bacterial contamination precipitating the recall on February 17, 2022, so Similac production can be restarted as soon as it is safe to do so,” the lawmakers continued. “At the very least, we hope you can agree that rationing food for infants who desperately need nutrients to grow up strong and healthy is not an acceptable outcome.”
The lawmakers requested Abbott’s answers to the following questions by Friday:
- What is your timeline for fixing the contamination at this facility, and when can families anticipate full production capacity to resume?
- Once the facility is ready to restart production, how long will it take to replenish the supply of baby formula so that states like Massachusetts will stop experiencing shortages?
- In the meantime, what steps are you taking to mitigate these shortages and, in particular, how are you prioritizing states like Massachusetts whose exclusivity agreements through WIC have caused families to suffer from the shortages most acutely?
- What steps will you take to ensure that this type of shortage does not happen again?
a. What criteria are you using to determine who receives formula on a case-by-case basis?
b. Do you have any prioritization guidelines in place to ensure equitable distribution of formula?
A copy of the letter can be accessed HERE.