Robert Cleveland, Reckitt’s senior vice president for nutrition in North America and Europe, spoke via videoconference during a House Commerce Subcommittee hearing held in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.
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Reckitt is able to produce more than 21 million 8-ounce baby formula bottles in Asia and Latin America if it gets the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, a top company executive stated Wednesday.
After Abbott, the former largest manufacturer of infant formula in America, closed its Sturgis, Michigan plant and recalled several batches of formula due to bacteria contamination, parents have had difficulty finding food for their children.
Robert Cleveland, head of Reckitt’s infant formulation operations in North America, and Europe, stated that Reckitt has risen to the top in infant formula manufacturing in America with a 54% market share. Reckitt has already increased its U.S. production by shipping 35% more formula through April than the same period last years, Cleveland stated. This amounts to feeding 200,000 extra infants.
Cleveland also reported that Reckitt is prepared to begin production at its Singapore plant in the U.S. on June 5th. In Singapore, Reckitt can first produce 200 metric tons of formula. This is the equivalent of 6,000,000 8-ounce bottles. It will then ship the product to the U.S. shelves later in the month. Cleveland explained that Reckitt can increase production to 500 tons per month from Singapore to the U.S.
Reckitt’s Mexican plant can be allowed to ship to the U.S. if the FDA permits it, Cleveland stated. This is equivalent to 21,000,000 8-ounce bottles. A 8-ounce container is equal to one infant’s meal.
“We’re literally waiting here by the hour for the FDA to tell us to go ahead and if they do — we’re ready to run,” Cleveland told CNBC. We believe we can significantly fix the problem in the U.S. with our manufacturing alone.
In response to the shortage, the FDA has relaxed import restrictions on baby formula and asked manufacturers to submit applications for shipping formula to the U.S. Reckitt requested that the FDA allow him to import product from Mexico and Singapore into the United States. The FDA declined to comment.
Cleveland stated that they are maximising all U.S. production. Cleveland stated, “Then we will bring in all we can from Singapore or Mexico. We’re just going maximizing those options until we see shelves full and consumer fear abated.”
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden met virtually to meet with executives from the infant-food industry, including Cleveland. They discussed U.S. efforts towards ending the shortage. So far, the Biden administration has brought in 1.5 million 8-ounce Nestle infant formula bottles from Europe. Additional flights are scheduled for next week to collect millions more bottles from Bubs in Australia or Kendamil in the United Kingdom.
Biden’s administration also invoked the Defense Production Act in support of increased infant formula production in the U.S. Cleveland stated that supply chains in the industry have been plagued by persistent shortages of inputs and delays in delivery since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Reckitt’s supplier had problems delivering enough oil to make infant formula products. The supplier couldn’t obtain a part for their production line. Cleveland stated that Reckitt was able to get the oil from the supplier after the administration used the DPA. Cleveland said that the administration also reached out to suppliers to ensure more consistent trucking schedules.
Cleveland stated that the U.S. formula shortage will likely continue into the summer. However, the timeline is dependent on when Abbott’s Michigan plant resumes production and whether Reckitt receives FDA approval to import product from Mexico and Singapore.
Abbott said that it hopes to restart Michigan production on June 4. However, it will take six to eight weeks for its formulas to reach stores shelves. After four infants were infected with Cronobacter bacteria, the Michigan facility was shut down in February. Two of them died.
Dr. Robert Califf of the FDA told Congress last week that neither the FDA nor the Centers for Disease Control Prevention were able to prove a connection between infant illnesses or Abbott’s baby formula products. Califf stated that inspectors found “egregiously insanitary” conditions at the Michigan facility.
To ensure that the Michigan plant meets U.S. safety standards, Abbott must take hundreds of steps according to a consent decree signed by a federal judge.