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Abbott Labs Facing Criminal Probe Over Baby Formula Shortage

(Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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Abbott Laboratories is under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for conduct that led to the closing of its Sturgis, Michigan, production facility last year and an ensuing nationwide baby formula shortage, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The DOJ’s consumer-protection wing is conducting a criminal investigation into the company, although it also has civil authority, according to The WSJ. An Abbott spokesperson said they had been informed by the DOJ of the investigation and are fully cooperating.

Abbott’s Sturgis plant was shut down last year after a whistleblower report led to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) linking a deadly bacteria that infected several infants to the facility. The DOJ reached a settlement with the company allowing them to reopen the plant, but the production halt exacerbated a baby formula shortage that had families across America scrambling to feed their kids for months and the Biden administration flying in shipments from overseas in a desperate attempt to ease the domestic shortage.

The DOJ has been able to criminally prosecute defendants for misdemeanors if they distribute contaminated food products to the market even if they acted without criminal intent in some recent cases, Seattle lawyer Bill Marler told The WSJ.

FDA officials never conclusively linked bacteria found in Abbott’s plant to the strains that infected several infants. However, inspectors did find numerous issues at the facility, including standing water and damage to formula cans. After the FDA and Abbott agreed to temporarily close the facility in February, it was reopened in June with promises to change certain procedures to avoid further closures. (RELATED: A Huge Number Of Americans Are Still Short On Baby Formula, Nearly One Year After Crisis Began)

The initial whistleblower report to the FDA was caused, in part, by an employee allegedly playing with a stun gun at the facility, leading a colleague to document and file several complaints. The Biden administration’s FDA faced scrutiny for its response to the ensuing formula shortage, including for the fact that its top food safety official wasn’t informed about the whistleblower report until several months after it was filed.