Tuesday, March 28, 2023

House to hold hearing on baby formula shortage as calls grow for FDA action

A House committee announced Wednesday that it would hold hearings later this month on the ongoing baby formula shortage across the country, with the panel’s chairman calling the situation “increasingly alarming.”

In announcing the May 25 hearing, House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said the shortfalls “demand Congress’ immediate attention.”

“The focus of this hearing will be on better understanding the causes of the shortage, what has been done to increase production and supply thus far, and what more still needs to be done to ensure access to safe formula across the nation,” he added .

The current shortages stem from the Feb. 17 recall by top supplier Abbott Laboratories of name brands such as Similac, Alimentum and EleCare made at its plant in Sturgis, Mich. The following complaints of bacterial infections in infants who consumed the products — resulting in at least two deaths and several reported illnesses.

As a result, retailers including Target, CVS, and Walgreens have limited in-store and online formula purchases. Supply chain snags and decades-high inflation have compounded the shortage, analysts have said, leaving about 40% of baby formula products out of stock nationwide.

One day earlier, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) urged the Food and Drug Administration and Agriculture Department to “move as fast as possible to safely resolve this situation.”

The House Energy & Commerce Committee Will Be Holding Hearings This Month On The National Baby Formula Shortage.
The House Energy & Commerce Committee will be holding hearings this month on the national baby formula shortage.
Paul Martinka
Sen.  Mitt Romney Called On The Fda To &Quot;Move As Fast As Possible To Safely Resolve&Quot; The Formula Shortage.
Sen. Mitt Romney called on the FDA to “move as fast as possible to safely resolve” the formula shortage.
Photo by Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images

“Given the serious implications of the current shortage on infant health, I am deeply concerned about the apparent lack of an effective mitigation strategy,” he wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and FDA Commissioner Robert Califf.

“In its attempt to balance safety from contaminated product and safe infant development through formula access, FDA is neither objective,” Romney added.

“Infant formulas are also not easily interchangeable: some infants develop allergies or sensitivities, and some infants require specific formulas based on other medical conditions,” the senator went on. “It is essential FDA build in redundancies and robust supply chain analysis to prevent future life-threatening shortages.”

Near-Empty Shelves Of Formula At A Brooklyn Walgreens Pharmacy On May 10, 2022.
Near-empty shelves of formula at a Brooklyn Walgreens Pharmacy on May 10, 2022.
Gregory P. Mango
Romney Said The Fda Needs To Take Action To Prevent A &Quot;Life-Threatening&Quot; Shortage.
Romney said the FDA needs to take action to prevent a “life-threatening” shortage.
Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call

On Tuesday, Abbott Nutrition told The Post it is “doing everything we can to address the infant formula supply shortage.”

“Across the US, we’re prioritizing production of infant formula products to help replenish the supply in the market and are also air shipping in product from our FDA-registered facility in Cootehill, Ireland, on a daily basis,” the company said. “All of this powder product is being restocked on retail shelves on a regular basis.”

Other members of Congress have also blasted the lack of additional action, with Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik telling The Post on Tuesday that the shortage has “created a panic.”

“Bare Shelves Biden’s failed policies have created a panic for families by failing to address a baby-formula shortage,” Stefanik said. “Hardworking parents are already paying the price for Biden’s inflation and supply-chain crises. They can’t wait weeks for formula.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) also expressed concern about the delays, telling the Post that legislation was needed to alleviate the supply chain problem.

“We rely on the FDA to ensure that the food we feed our family is safe,” she said. “I want to handle the problem from the manufacturing side to ensure the FDA and the private sector are enforcing and following safety standards, but also from the perspective of a mother.

“We need legislation that not only alleviates the supply chain issues but also includes funding for community health centers and hospitals to provide lactation consultants who can help new mothers.”

Sen.  Kirsten Gillibrand Called For Legislation That Would Alleviate The Supply Chain Crisis.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called for legislation that would alleviate the supply chain crisis.
Associated Press Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Stefanik and Gillibrand are among the very few women who have given birth while serving in Congress. Most recently, Stefanik delivered her son in August.

On Wednesday, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One that the Abbott recall “has led to some Americans being unable to access infant formula and other critical medical food supply.

This is an urgent issue that the FDA, as you all know, and the White House is working 24/7 to address. They are committed to pulling every lever and are ready to making progress and getting more supply onto the market,” she added. “In fact, in April, sales were about 10% greater than in March. Right now, consumers should be able to find general powdered infant formulas in stores, but we are focused on doing everything we can to ensure formula is more easily available.”

The FDA and Department of Agriculture did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.

With Post wires


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