- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2022

Democrats are pointing the finger at the Food and Drug Administration for acting too slowly in investigating a major company that manufactures infant formula, a case that led to a supply shortage of the product across the country.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro had called for an investigation in March into the FDA‘s handling of the recall of Abbot Powdered Infant Formula, which has contributed to the shortage of baby formula across the country.

“For a long time now, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro… has been addressing this issue,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters at her weekly press conference.

“And when I say addressing, that includes investigating, looking for other possibilities in anticipation, just to make sure that something like this would not happen,” she said, adding that the Connecticut Democrat would be spearheading the issue in the House.

Mrs. DeLauro said in March that the FDA should be investigated for “acting too slowly to pulling potentially dangerous infant formula off store shelves.”

Parents across the country are frantically searching for baby formula because of a supply disruption from one of the few major laboratories that make the product.  

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In February, the FDA cautioned parents not to feed their infants specific popular powdered infant formulas made at the Michigan-based Abbott‘s Sturgis plant. The agency cited reports of four babies who became severely sick with bacterial infections after consuming formula originating from that facility. Two of the infants subsequently died.

Abbott issued a recall for products sold under the Similac, Alimentum and EleCare labels.

Mrs. DeLauro told The Washington Times that the FDA received a whistleblower’s report about Abbott last October. 

“The FDA did not, in fact, interview the whistleblower until December,” she said. “They then did not recall the product until February. So, Similac, which has the biggest contract with the USDA for infant formula, has been recalled, except for some of the specialty products that they do that has, obviously, contributed to an infant formula shortage.”

In a full statement, Abbott disputed that its formula was linked to infant illnesses.

“The February voluntary recall involved four complaints of Cronobacter sakazakii — a common environmental bacteria — in infants who consumed infant formulas produced in this plant. Two infants became sick; two tragically passed away,” the statement said. “The facts about what was learned about the cases of Cronobacter have not been widely communicated. After a thorough review of all available data, there is no evidence to link our formulas to these infant illnesses.”

The Abbott facility is the company’s largest U.S. formula manufacturing plant, and baby formula is at risk to supply disruptions because only a few companies manufacture the product in the U.S.

Additionally, the shortages are especially difficult for those babies that require specialty formulas because of medical circumstances like allergies and digestive issues.

“We have a producer. One of the problems is the consolidation of the industry, there are only a few of producers of infant formula,” Mrs. DeLauro said. “What we need to do is have been prepared for this, if we had looked into it earlier enough, then we would not have to make up for the shortages on our shelves.”

Mrs. DeLauro says she wants to address the issue of a contaminated product being on the market. In the short term, she is working on legislation related to the issue through two hearings, and she called for an inspector general’s report.

In the meantime, the FDA announced it would allow certain infant formula products to be distributed to the public from the closed down Michigan-based Abbott facility on a “case-by-case” basis.

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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