More questions than answers after congressional hearing on baby formula shortage

Some relief is coming, but it could be months until supplies get back to normal.

By Alexandra HartMay 20, 2022 3:09 pm,

As the baby formula shortage continues, parents and caregivers are scrambling to find food for their children. This week, the Biden administration announced measures to help ease the shortage, but at a congressional hearing Thursday, the head of the Food and Drug Administration faced questions from lawmakers about how the situation was allowed to get so bad.

It’s a complicated situation, Politico reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich told the Texas Standard. Supply chains were already off-kilter due to the pandemic, then the formula recall and subsequent shutdown of Abbott Nutrition’s Michigan plant over contamination made matters worse. 

» A pediatrician’s advice for navigating the baby formula shortage

But issues had been raised regarding the plant long before it shuttered in February, Politico first reported, with the first infant hospitalization linked to formula from the plant in September. The FDA then received a whistleblower warning about the plant in October, Bottemiller Evich said, and did not inspect until January, the month before the recall.

Lawmakers questioned FDA Commissioner Robert Califf about the delay at Thursday’s hearing, but he refused to say why the response took months, citing an ongoing investigation into the matter.

There was a lot of pressure on him to tell Congress, like, why did it take so long?” Bottemiller Evich said. “Why did they not react quickly to the whistleblower warning, which contained very specific allegations of food safety concerns [and] falsified documents that they accused the plant of hiding? These were really serious allegations.”

There are also questions about what the administration has done since in the months since the recall, and how much has really been done to shore up the infant formula supply, Bottemiller Evich said.

I think that this is going to get better in a matter of weeks, but I don’t think it’s going to be, ‘normal,’ like fully stocked shelves, for quite a while. I mean, the good news is we do have enough formula; we make enough formula in this country. But the distribution, the backlog and demand, I mean, it’s just very disrupted right now.”

Bottemiller Evich said that specialty formulas for allergy sensitivities and other health conditions, which are more urgently needed, are particularly off right now but stressed that doctors do not advise homemade formulas.

“If you truly are in a situation where you can’t find any, you should talk to your pediatrician,” she said. “Get in touch with a medical professional before you start Googling things.”

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