Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Wednesday were putting a spotlight on makers of baby formula, the Biden administration, and industry experts due to an ongoing shortage, 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 Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight subcommittee, as she kicked of that panel’s hearing.
Food and Drug Administration officials, including commissioner Dr. Robert Califf, were slated to testify before DeGette’s subcommittee, along with representatives from Abbott
Gerber business and Reckitt
“The big question I have today is why did the Biden administration let the shortage become so dire before acting with any urgency,” said the subcommittee’s top Republican, Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia.
A second hearing on the formula shortage is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. Eastern Wednesday, hosted by the House Appropriations Committee’s agriculture subcommittee and featuring experts on 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 unfair business practices and about the factors that have led to concentration in the formula market and fragile supply chains.
In this image from video, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., speaks at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 11, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)
Critics of the administration contend that the U.S. should “focus on the root causes of the U.S. not importing more high-quality formula from Europe, including high tariffs and stringent FDA importation requirements, particularly around labeling,” said Kim Monk, a healthcare analyst and managing director at Capital Alpha Partners, in a note.
“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,” she also wrote, referring to 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.
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.
Republicans have blasted the Biden administration repeatedly for the formula shortage, and the criticisms are likely to continue as the GOP aims to take back the House and Senate in November’s midterm elections.