Jan 20, 2023 - Economy

DOJ investigating Abbott over infant formula plant

Photo of a truck trailer with the Abbott Laboratories' name and logo printed on the side, as viewed through a wire fence

A truck trailer outside the Abbott Nutrition factory in Sturgis, Michigan on May 19, 2022. Photo: Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Department of Justice is investigating Abbott Laboratories and its infant formula plant in Sturgis, Michigan, multiple outlets report, citing a statement from a company spokesperson.

Why it matters: The facility was temporarily shut down last year after Abbott Nutrition — one of the largest suppliers of baby formula in the U.S. — recalled multiple major brands of its formula due to reports of bacterial infections among several babies who consumed the product. The monthlong closure spurred an infant formula shortage across the nation.

  • A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report found that conditions at the Michigan plant "were not consistent with a strong food safety culture," including inadequate hand-washing practices and evidence of previous bacterial contamination.
  • Abbott Nutrition later reached an agreement with the FDA to reopen its infant formula plant.
  • Under the deal, the company is required to seek outside expert help to keep the Michigan facility in proper condition.

What they're saying: "The DOJ has informed us of its investigation, and we’re cooperating fully," Abbott spokesman Scott Stoffel said in a statement to Bloomberg.

  • The DOJ's consumer-protection branch is leading the probe, per the Wall Street Journal.
  • Abbott did not immediately return requests for comment.

Worth noting: Abbott has maintained that there is no conclusive evidence linking its formulas to the infant illnesses and deaths attributed to Cronobacter sakazakii, the bacterium that was found in an area of the Michigan plant.

  • The company says it did not come into contact with the formula.

The big picture: About 3 in 4 babies are fed formula by six months old as a complete or partial substitute for human milk, Axios' Nathan Bomey reports.

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