The FDA has “dropped the ball” on the country’s baby food crisis — closing a key facility on top of product recalls and then not warning parents of the impact, experts told the Post on Friday.
Desperate moms and dads have been scouring stores across the country in search of baby formula since mega-manufacturer Abbott issued a safety recall on products made at its Sturgis, Michigan facility in February over concerns about contamination.
The Food and Drug Administration later closed the facility after federal inspectors determined that Abbott was failing to maintain sanitation conditions and procedures there — triggering a cascade of crippling impacts on the supply chain.
“Someone, whether it be Abbott or the FDA, should have realized, ‘We’re shutting down production at one of the few factories that make baby formula, and what’s the impact,'” said William Marler, an attorney specializing in food-safety case, to the post office.
“This is where the FDA and Abbott dropped the ball. … They could have recalled the product without closing the facility. They call back all the time without shutting down the facility.”
Manhattan’s mother Amy Daly, 38, of the Upper West Side, lamented Friday that she was forced to wean her 11-month-old baby Alice off infant formula early when the shortage began.
“People are desperate. … It’s a real crisis. Mothers are in need,” she said.
“Management should have known the shortage was coming and should have done something to prevent it — or at least give moms more warning,” said Daly, standing in a playground about a block from a Duane Reade whose shelves are for Baby foods are now completely naked.
On Friday, President Biden, hammered by critics for his handling of the crisis, claimed that only “better mind readers” could have been more effective than his administration and the FDA in handling the dire situation.
His flippant comment came the day after the White House announced it would finally start opening the way to imports of milk formula from overseas – several months after the plant closed.
“Some products are coming in from overseas, but US bureaucracy is preventing much-needed supplies,” Wall Street Journal opinion writer James Freeman said in an article on Friday.
“Every time this topic comes up in the news cycle, Team Biden and his allies on Capitol Hill are just asking for more investigation into the deal.
“Now the President wants the Federal Trade Commission to look for evidence of price gouging, and House Democrats want testimonies from formula manufacturers. How about you investigate the FDA and let people who can make baby food feed hungry newborns?”
Peter Pitts — a former FDA deputy commissioner and current director of the Center for Medicines in the Public Interest — told The Post that the agency “knew this shortage situation was going to happen.
“They should have educated the parents, given them advance warning and let them know how to prepare,” he said. “The result was that one day parents walk into the store and the shelves are empty – and they panic.
“The White House doesn’t care,” Pitts bluntly added.
Outgoing White House press secretary Jen Psaki was no more of a help than her boss when asked Friday how long the shortages were likely to remain a problem.
“Really important question, but difficult for us to judge,” she said.
She even claimed during a Thursday briefing that the FDA took the right steps all along because “there have been babies who have died from taking this formula.”
Abbott has strongly denied that any of its plant products killed infants, let alone made them sick.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf claimed in a tweet on Friday that government efforts to help other companies ramp up production and increase imports from overseas should alleviate the shortage within “a matter of weeks”.
But the boss of the Perrigo Company, which makes Walmart and Amazon-branded baby formula, told Reuters on Friday that he expects the shortages to continue for “the year’s tally”.
Abbott insisted it can resume production at its closed facility “within two weeks” of FDA granting approval to resume operations.
Since closing, Abbott has shipped millions of doses to the United States from its FDA-registered facility in Ireland and has prioritized infant formula production at its Columbus, Ohio facility.
Various industry experts said the Formula disaster could have been avoided if the government had had clear leadership and a “dedicated food authority”.
“The whole situation could have been dealt with with a sense of urgency given the population consuming this product,” said Mitzi Baum, executive director of the nonprofit organization STOP Food Borne Illness.
Baum added that the delay was a reflection of the “system malfunctioning” that failed to protect public health.
“Most of FDA’s funding goes to drugs and devices, and the agency’s food division is severely underfunded and lacks clear leadership,” Baum said.
Hal King, managing partner at Active Food Safety LLC, a food industry consultancy, added, “I don’t blame the FDA, I blame the government.
“We need a dedicated food agency,” King said.
“FDA’s communication to the public and the company’s to the public has been too slow to let people know that foods in the system are making people sick.
“Getting things off the shelves is good, but that doesn’t tell people anything about products they might have at home. This process is interrupted.”