The country’s infant formula shortage has impacted families everywhere. According to research by Datasembly, the nationwide out of stock percentage continues to climb and has reached 43 percent. Last week, we covered how the shortage could hit Black families hardest, as more Black families depend on formula to feed their babies. Now House Democrats are taking steps to make sure a crisis like this never happens again. They plan to hold hearings on the issue and have introduced legislation that would ramp up the number of FDA inspectors working to ensure safety at formula production plants. The legislation, introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, would give the FDA $28 million in emergency funding for additional inspectors.
According to DeLauro, the FDA has only nine inspectors to cover formula plants in the U.S., seven plants in Europe and two in Mexico. In order to increase formula production, the agency needs additional resources to inspect more plants. “Those facilities have to be inspected. FDA does not have the adequate inspection force to be able to do that and to do it in a timely way,” DeLauro said. Her bill would also include funds for supply chain monitoring and additional oversight.
Nearly 98 percent of the formula Americans buy is produced at home. And Abbott Nutrition, along with Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestle USA and Perrigo, have the market on lock, controlling 90 percent. That’s why the FDA’s warning to parents about Abbott Nutrition’s powdered infant formulas produced at its Sturgis, MI plant in February, followed by the company’s voluntary product recall, had such a devastating impact on the market.
But on May 16, Abbott reached a deal with the FDA to reopen its Michigan plant. Investigations by the FDA, CDC and Abbott found no link between Abbott formulas and infant illnesses. Pending court approval, the plant would reopen within two weeks and be able to get formula back on store shelves within six to eight weeks. The agreement would require Abbott to ramp up production on its powdered infant formulas while ensuring safety standards set by the FDA.
“Our number one priority is getting infants and families the high-quality formulas they need, and this is a major step toward reopening our Sturgis facility so we can ease the nationwide formula shortage. We look forward to working with the FDA to quickly and safely reopen the facility,” said Robert B. Ford, Abbott’s Chairman and CEO. “We know millions of parents and caregivers depend on us, and we’re deeply sorry that our voluntary recall worsened the nationwide formula shortage. We will work hard to re-earn the trust that moms, dads and caregivers have placed in our formulas for more than 50 years.”
On May 17, Nestlé announced it would do its part to help account for shortages in U.S. stores by importing additional formula from the Netherlands and Switzerland. “We prioritized these products because they serve a critical medical purpose, as they are for babies with cow’s milk protein allergies,” the company said in a statement to Reuters. “Both products were already being imported, but we moved shipments up and rushed via air to help fill immediate needs.”