The ongoing national baby formula shortage might have been triggered, at least in part, by a factory employee playing with a stun gun while he was on the clock.
An employee in the quality services department at Abbott Laboratories’ formula plant in Michigan triggered a whistleblower report to regulators by playing with a stun gun at the facility, according to a report by The Detroit News. The whistleblower report ultimately led to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommending a shutdown of the plant, which cut off a major supply of American baby formula.
— Kayla Ruble (@RubleKB) July 27, 2022
The stun gun incident occurred in May 2020, and the employee in question said he had a bug zapper, not a stun gun, according to the News. “It’s definitely a stun gun and not a bug zapper,” another employee said in internal communications obtained by the News.
The episode reportedly inspired a whistleblower to go to management about safety concerns at the plant. By June, the employee felt management wasn’t acting swiftly enough and escalated the complaint to Abbott’s headquarters in Illinois, according to the News. He was fired two months later, at which point he filed a complaint with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA).
He went on to file a safety complaint with the FDA. The agency conducted an investigation that resulted in the plant being closed in February, not to be reopened until months later.
Abbott had 40% of the market share for baby formula in the U.S. prior to the recall, and produced many specialty products for infants with particular needs. Experts say the plant shutdown, which was due to a potential link between Abbott formula and multiple cases of bacterial outbreaks in kids, contributed substantially to the nationwide shortage afflicting parents to this day.
The four-month stoppage of production at the plant traces directly back to the stun gun incident, according to the News. The employee who brought in the weapon reportedly did so to show it to another worker, and was not fired or seriously disciplined after the incident. Now, the out-of-stock rate for baby formula in the United States remains high, at 30%.