FDA Commissioner says formula shortage will continue through summer

by mcardinal

Lauren Moye, FISM News


According to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf, the baby food shortage will persist through the summer, which leaves nervous American parents scrambling for another two months to secure the nutrition their babies need. For one Democratic Senator, however, the problem needs a long-term solution.

“It’s going to be gradual improvement up to probably somewhere around two months until the shelves are replete again,” Califf said on Thursday, during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing.

The Biden Administration has previously pointed fingers at supply-chain issues stemming from COVID-19 pandemic measures. The shortage was exacerbated in February when the FDA shut down one of the four major U.S. formula manufacturers due to safety concerns. Abbott will resume production at its Sturgis, Michigan plant on June 4 with its specialty formula EleCare anticipated to hit the shelves six to eight weeks after this point.

The American public and lawmakers have grown increasingly frustrated with the situation as they wonder how the U.S. has reached a point where parents are struggling to care for their youngest children.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre attempted to spin the formula crisis in a positive light during Thursday’s press conference, saying the FDA had “an important mission” and an “obligation to protect the American people.”

That answer doesn’t satisfy Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who led the committee hearing meeting. For Murray, the crisis is not simply a supply-chain issue compounded by a recall. It represents a gross failure to regulate and enforce safety standards within the industry. Murray said the issue goes back decades and has previously allowed baby food to be contaminated with bacteria and arsenic.

Concerning the Abbott plant, the FDA wasted crucial months to act. She said, “What doesn’t make sense, what I can’t for the life of me figure out, is why it took so long to investigate in the first place. Why did so much time pass before the FDA took serious action to investigate this contamination in baby formula?”

According to Murray’s notes presented at the hearing, the FDA began investigating the Abbott plant in September 2021 for safety issues. A whistleblower stepped forward in October to voice safety concerns, but leading officials did not see the resulting report for months due to “mailroom issues.” By the time the manufacturer recalled the formula, there had been four reports of sick infants.

Murray requested to know what “long-term steps” the FDA planned to take to prevent future crises from developing.

Murray said on Thursday that she gives both the FDA and formula manufacturers an “F” for how they responded to the early stages of the shortage.

The Biden Administration has brought in two flights of international baby food formula to help ease the U.S. shortage. But Jean-Pierre on Thursday could not answer definitely when more flights would be scheduled, saying only that Americans could “expect more flights.” The White House has also taken steps to increase U.S. formula production.

While Murray applauded the Biden Admin for utilizing the Defense Production Act and orchestrating “Operation Fly Formula,” she also adamantly declared, “This all happened way too late.”