This is the Weekly Dingus, the Friday newsletter, where I round up my internet reads, share a drink recipe, and vent about something really dingusy that happened in the news. This week, it’s Abbott Laboratories. But once it was SCOTUS. Another time it was Joe Manchin. Will it be you? Stay woke.
Last summer, Abbott Laboratories, makers of the popular BinaxNOW rapid Covid tests, fired thousands of workers and destroyed tests. The rationale was that demand was down. It was all about money.
As the summer ended and students went back to school and people were forced back into the offices, demand for tests surged. But tests were hard to find. Americans were scrambling and people were desperate for any safeguard as governments and businesses rolled back mask mandates and the burden of a worldwide pandemic fell on the shoulders of individuals. The New York Times noted that the destruction of tests was especially egregious because the stock could have been donated to other countries or to individuals who couldn’t afford the test kits.
Abbott’s decisions have ramifications even beyond the United States. Employees in Maine, many of them immigrants from African countries, were upset at having to discard what might have been donated. Other countries probably could have used the materials, according to Dr. Sergio Carmona, chief medical officer of FIND, a nonprofit that promotes access to diagnostics.
It won’t shock you then, if I tell you that as America faces a critical shortage of baby formula, the company behind the shortage is Abbott.
In October 2021, a whistleblower at an Abbott plant in Michigan alleged that Abbott falsified records and released untested baby formula. Additionally, a report by Food Safety News noted that Abbott had issues with its drying machine, which resulted in bacteria entering the processing system. Abbott, for its part, insisted that every allegation has been investigated and that the whistleblower was a fired employee.
But it was that same Abbott plant that was forced to shut down in February 2022 when the FDA issued a recall on formula due to bacterial contamination. This shutdown, coupled with global supply chain issues, worker shortages, and the fact that Abbott controls 89 percent of the formula market, have led to formula shortages across the country.
There are only three major suppliers of formula in America: Abbott, Gerber, and Mead Johnson. It’s a monopoly over infant food. Parents already feel the effects of this, because cans of formula can cost over $100. And now, this lack of flexibility in the market has meant that there is no room for error. When there is a formula shortage, parents have nowhere else to turn.
Formula is already expensive. And in a country without paid parental leave or affordable healthcare, many mothers are unable to breastfeed, relying on formula to feed their infants.
For weeks, mothers across the country have been rationing supplies, thinning them out with water, and driving hours and hours, only to find empty shelves. Families are desperate. And this is all happening while the Supreme Court is on the verge of ending women’s right to abortion.
Abbott is working to reopen the plant, but in the meantime, families are without options.
It’s worth noting that Abbott has made a lot of money from the pandemic. Earning a $255 million military defense contract to make their rapid tests. And Abbott’s earning report for the first quarter of 2022 reports, “$11.9 billion in worldwide sales, growing 17.5% organic* (13.8% reported)” and “$3.3 billion in global COVID-19 testing-related sales.”
Families literally cannot feed their babies, and Abbott is making billions in profits. This is America.
Dingus of the Week Runner-Up: People Who Say Women Should Just Breastfeed
It’s worth noting that anyone who says mothers should just breastfeed is a horrible human being who deserves to suffer from mastitis in the afterlife. I cannot believe we are still having this debate. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised since the Supreme Court is trying to force rights for Americans back to 1776.