Healthcare

Pelosi floats indictments for baby formula deaths as Democrats unveil emergency funding

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) listens to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during a press conference on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 to discuss legislation to improve production of baby formula as the national shortage continues.
Greg Nash
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) listens to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during a press conference on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 to discuss legislation to improve production of baby formula as the national shortage continues.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Tuesday suggested there could be indictments for the people found to be responsible for the deaths of two infants who consumed baby formula that may have been contaminated.  

Speaking at a press conference to unveil Democrats’ $28 million aid bill to help put formula back on store shelves, Pelosi said the possibility that contaminated formula killed at least two babies is “sinful.” 

“When it comes to babies, it’s the here and now and in this moment … I think that when all of this is done … I think there might be a need for indictment,” Pelosi said.

The infant deaths are part of a series of events that has contributed to a nationwide shortage of infant formula. A manufacturing plant operated by Abbott Nutrition has been shut down since February, after four infants who consumed formula made there were hospitalized with a rare bacterial infection. 

Abbott is one of the largest formula manufacturers in the country. The shutdown has exacerbated existing supply chain pressures, leading to bare shelves in stores across the country.

The emergency funding legislation is one piece of a broader push to address the formula shortages. Pelosi said the House intends to pass the bill this week, as well as a related measure to expand access to formula for vulnerable families from Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.).

The bill would allow people who participate in the low-income assistance program for women, infant and children, known as WIC, to access more sources for formula. WIC benefits restrict the types of formulas that recipients can buy.

Democrats are vowing to investigate the shortages, which have been months in the making. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing next week with top Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials as well as executives from formula manufacturers. 

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has also launched an inquiry into the shortages.

“It is a very serious problem in this country. Parents are struggling. People today live paycheck to paycheck. They are now scrambling to find a formula to feed their babies in what is the wealthiest nation in the world,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee 

DeLauro said the emergency funding bill would provide new money for the FDA to use for new product reviews and safety inspections, and to ensure that fraudulent products do not enter the U.S. from abroad.

During the press conference, DeLauro accused Abbott of a cover-up.

“Recalls happen, but this company has lied, it’s cut corners and falsified records to cover up misdoing at the sake of infant health,” she said. “That’s wrong. Just plain wrong.”

DeLauro said FDA needs more resources, but she also slammed the agency for “dragging your feet” after officials were made aware about concerns at the plant as far back as October.

“Consolidation is a problem, there were problems with COVID, but dragging your feet for five months … there’s lots of culpability,” DeLauro told The Hill. 

Abbott maintains the FDA has not been able to definitively link its formula to the illnesses. The company said it has been making corrective improvements to address the agency’s concerns. 

FDA and Abbott announced Monday they had entered into an agreement on how to reopen the shuttered plant, but there was no specific timetable.

But even if the funding bill passes the House, Senate Republicans were already pouring cold water on the possibility of spending more money on legislation that won’t have an immediate impact.

“Whether it’s $28 million or $228 million, it won’t make any difference tomorrow. It probably won’t make any difference probably a week from tomorrow,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). 

Retail supply of formula has been spotty for months because of supply chain pressures and labor shortages, but many lawmakers have only recently begun to press FDA and the companies for answers.  

The White House has come under pressure in recent days from parents and lawmakers who are demanding action. 

Republicans are largely centering their political attacks on the Biden administration. But both Democrats and Republicans are asking tough questions of FDA and raising concerns about the thoroughness of the agency’s food safety inspections. 

Tags Baby Formula Baby formula shortage Jahana Hayes Nancy Pelosi Rosa DeLauro Rose DeLauro

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