Healthcare

House panel to hold hearing on formula shortages

Baby formula is displayed on the shelves of a grocery store in Carmel, Ind., Tuesday, May 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

A congressional panel is planning an investigative hearing into the worsening shortage of infant formula.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee said Wednesday that it will hold a hearing on May 25 to examine the causes of the shortage as well as efforts to increase production and access to safe formula.

“The nationwide infant formula shortages are increasingly alarming and demand Congress’ immediate attention,” Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said in a statement.

Retail supply of formula has been spotty for months because of supply chain pressures and labor shortages, but the situation dramatically worsened in February with a nationwide recall of formula made by Abbott Nutrition, one of the largest suppliers in the country.

The recall was sparked by four reports of a rare bacteria that causes deadly infections in babies. Two infants died, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered Abbott’s manufacturing plant in Michigan to be shut down. 

Parents are scrambling, and ​​the shortages are felt most acutely by parents whose children need specialty formula to survive.

The Abbott Nutrition facility that produces recalled infant formulas also produces all Abbott Nutrition metabolic and other medical specialty infant formulas for infants with metabolic conditions and other health needs.

Lawmakers have now begun to take notice, and are sending letters to the FDA demanding answers.

Witnesses for the hearing have not been confirmed yet, but an Energy and Commerce Committee spokesperson told The Hill “the Committee needs to hear directly from FDA and Abbott” in order for the hearing to be productive.

Abbott on Wednesday said it could have its Michigan plant up and running in two weeks if the FDA allowed it to reopen.

“We understand the situation is urgent – getting Sturgis up and running will help alleviate this shortage. Subject to FDA approval, we could restart the site within two weeks,” the company said in a statement.

“We would begin production of EleCare, Alimentum and metabolic formulas first and then begin production of Similac and other formulas. From the time we restart the site, it will take six to eight weeks before product is available on shelves.”

But it’s not clear when the FDA will allow that to happen. The agency cited the plant for not being “clean and sanitary,” and inspectors said they observed significant food safety issues at the plant that risked contamination of formula, including five different strains of Cronobacter on the floor and on the wall.  

Abbott said it has already implemented corrections to address the items the agency raised, and has been making upgrades to the plant.

Tags Abbott Nutrition baby formula Frank Pallone infant formula

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