After the nationwidebegan dominating the headlines — and after some Republicans began publicly calling for more action from the Biden administration — White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday the administration had been working on the formula issue for “months.”
follows the closure of a single one in Michigan, where much of the country’s formula is made. Abbott is the nation’s largest manufacturer of formulas, and at this point 40% of the country’s formulas are out of stock.
Senior administration officials told reporters on a call Thursday that months of attention to the shortages is why baby formula production in the last four weeks has at least equaled production in the four weeks before the Abbott plant closed. But critics question why the shortages have become so severe and why the government is only now taking certain measures when the government has already aggressively tackled the problem.
Invoking the Defense Production Act to try to increase formula production has not been ruled out by President Biden, and the administration is also expanding the range of formula products that can be purchased with WIC benefits. ThatEnhancements to importing foreign-made formula next week.
Mr. Biden, asked by a reporter on Friday whether his administration should have taken those steps sooner, replied: “If we had been better mind readers, I suppose we could have. But we acted so quickly when we realized the problem. And we have to move both cautiously and quickly, because we have to make sure we’re getting really top quality products.”
On Friday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would introduce legislation next week to grant emergency authorization to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to allow suspensions and recalls of the Supply chain by relaxing certain regulations not related to the safety of the products.
“It is a matter of baby’s life and development to ensure that every precious baby gets the nourishment it needs. While it is important that we make sure this problem never happens again, right now the babies are crying and the babies are hungry – so we must take urgent action to protect their health and well-being,” Pelosi said.
Two other committees of the Democrat-led House of Representatives, the House Appropriations Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, are planning hearings. The House Oversight Committee on Thursday sent letters to the four leading formula makers — Abbott Nutrition, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestle USA and the Perrigo Company — asking them what steps they have taken to increase supply, lower prices, Preventing Price Gouging and When to Do It Expect sufficient supply to meet demand. The committee requested a response and briefing by May 26.
“We’re trying to figure out how to fix these issues as quickly as possible? How do we increase supply? And how do we avoid price gouging at all costs? Because that is also a problem,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi. citing reports that parents are paying three or four times the normal cost of infant formula. He urged the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies to look for price gouging in the market.
Krishnamoorthi, chair of an economic and consumer policy subcommittee, wrote to the FDA in late March to ask why the agency waited five months to warn consumers after a potentially fatal Cronobacter sakazakii infection in infants with contaminated formula which was manufactured at an Abbott facility September.
On Thursday, Republican Rep. Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma and Randy Feenstra of Iowa introduced a bill called the Formula Act that would direct the FDA to communicate clearer standards for regulating infant formula and apply those standards to foreign infant formula so it can be imported more easily . Most of the formula consumed in the US is manufactured domestically, in part because of the strict regulatory barriers and import tariffs imposed on foreign formulas. The two lawmakers were joined by a dozen House Republicans in a news conference urging the government to do more.
“Biden and the FDA have had to work directly with manufacturers and hospitals to make sure we have an adequate supply of baby formula and make sure parents know where to go when store shelves are empty,” Rep. Elise said Stefanik. a New York Republican. “This is not a third world country. This should never happen in the United States of America.”
Utah Senator Mitt Romney has also written to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to express concern that the two agencies are not acting quickly enough to investigate contaminated infant formula and work to open up more options to bring to market.