A bipartisan group of lawmakers were putting the spotlight on manufacturers of baby formula and industry experts due to an ongoing shortage on Wednesday, with two House hearings taking place on Capitol Hill.
“We expect answers from the FDA, Abbott and the other two leading formula manufacturers on why caregivers are scrambling to find the necessary nutrition that they need to sustain their babies and children,” said Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight subcommittee, as she started off that hearing.
FDA officials, including commissioner Dr. Robert Califf, were scheduled to testify before the subcommittee, along with representatives from Abbott, Nestle’s Gerber, and Reckitt. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut has called on Abbott Labs specifically to be held accountable for its role in the shortage.
“This is an issue of supply and food safety,” DeLauro stated to the press, citing a 34-page whistleblower report she received from a former Abbott employee, alleging that the manufacturer of baby formula knowingly sold contaminated products and falsified records.
A second hearing on the formula shortage was also scheduled for later that same day, hosted by the House Appropriations Committee’s agriculture subcommittee and featured experts on baby formula. The lawmakers’ remarks come as Washington continues to react to an ongoing, nationwide baby-formula shortage.
The Biden administration has taken steps to address the shortage that include military airlifts from Europe of formula. The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday announced that it has launched an inquiry into the shortage, seeking information about any potential unfair business practices and about the factors that may have led to concentration in the formula market and weak supply chains.
“The formula shortage is complex, involving trade policy, state-based monopoly contracts with the USDA’s WIC program, and FDA’s stringent import/labeling requirements as well,” Rep. Degette added, referencing the Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. “But first, lawmakers want some answers as to why it took FDA four months to respond to a whistleblower complaint about safety problems at Abbott Nutrition’s Michigan factory.”
Abbott has apologized for its role in the nationwide shortage of baby formula. The company voluntarily recalled some of its formulas manufactured in its Sturgis, Mich., plant after FDA officials found a potentially deadly bacteria there, in a move that exacerbated existing shortages created by supply-chain problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage,” Abbott CEO, Robert Ford, wrote. “By the end of June, we will be supplying more formula to Americans than we were in January before the reca
Califf faced a bipartisan grilling in a separate House hearing last week, saying he couldn’t share details due to his agency’s ongoing investigation when lawmakers asked him why it took the FDA months to investigate a whistleblower complaint about safety violations at Abbott’s plant. The FDA commissioner cited an issue with the administration’s mailroom that led to the delay in the report reaching the higher officials. They eventually received the report via email on February 14, three days before the products were recalled.
“The issue is about getting a product, getting it quickly, and making sure it is safe,” Rep. DeLauro has stated publicly. “We are going to be all over the FDA… and closely monitor what they are doing.”