DeSantis doesn’t blame Abbott, despite ‘egregiously unsanitary’ conditions at infant formula plant
Gov. Ron DeSantis (Photo via Saul Loeb for AFP)

Gov. Ron DeSantis blamed the Biden administration for the shortage of infant formula within the United States, suggesting manufacturer Abbott Laboratories, in Michigan, was blameless in a plant shutdown that left parents scrambling to provide nourishment for their babies.

The governor addressed the matter during a news conference in Jacksonville as another of the supply chain problem holding back the U.S. economy.

“We’re now seeing this massive problem with the baby formula over the last few months,” he said.

“They shut down Abbott’s plant. I don’t think Abbott even did anything wrong. And they were really slow to bring that to a conclusion,” DeSantis said of federal health regulators.

“Now, I think the plant’s going back, but it’s been a total disaster with that. It’s been very difficult for a lot of mothers to be able to get the infant formula that they need.”

The Florida Phoenix’s Washington D.C. bureau has been writing stories about the infant formula shortage and the hearings in Congress about the crisis. The information from the D.C. bureau states:

FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told Congress in late May that he’s found no evidence of intentional delay or malfeasance within the agency — though it took months to act on a whistleblower report of what he called “egregiously unsanitary” conditions at an infant formula plant in Michigan.

Califf said the agency’s response “was too slow and there were decisions that were suboptimal along the way.” He also told lawmakers there was a “lack of coordination” regarding the whistleblower report the FDA received in October 2021.

Members of Congress have repeatedly criticized the FDA for its slow response to reports of unsanitary conditions at the Abbott Laboratories manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan, where Cronobacter was detected during an inspection earlier this year.

The current infant formula shortage began in mid-February after Abbott Laboratories issued a recall of products produced at the Sturgis, facility.

In the five months leading up to the plant shutdown, the FDA received a whistleblower report about unsanitary conditions at the facility, four infants became ill with Cronobacter infections, with at least two of them dying, and an FDA inspection of the facility in late January found several violations.

Among the issues at the Abbott infant formula facility were:

  • Standing water.
  • Cracks in key equipment that could have allowed bacterial contamination to persist.
  • Leaks in the roof.
  • Previous citations for inadequate hand-washing.
  • Bacteria growing from multiple sites.
  • “A disappointing lack of attention to the culture of safety.”

In a press statement last month, Abbott entered into a “consent decree with (the) U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its Sturgis, Mich., plant; agreement creates pathway to reopen facility.”

Boost for first responders

DeSantis scheduled his news conference at a Jacksonville fire-rescue station ostensibly to highlight $10 million in the state budget that takes effect on July 1 to provide Florida’s urban search and rescue teams with updated equipment, maintenance costs, and training.

These were the crews from around the state that responded to last year’s Surfside condominium collapse, which killed 98 people.

Hurricane season opened last week and has already produced its first tropical storm, named Alex, which developed after a tropical system dumped as much as 11 inches of rain on South Florida and then moved over the Atlantic Ocean.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted above-average storm activity this year — for the seventh year in a row.

“Honestly, these predictions — you don’t know either way,” DeSantis said.

“Just assume we’re going to have hurricanes. I mean, I think that’s the best way to do it. Be prepared and if we end up not getting a significant amount, then great. But just assume that you’re going to have to deal with this throughout the hurricane season,” he said.

Florida Phoenix editor Diane Rado contributed to this report.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.