House panel plans hearing on baby formula shortages

A Congressional committee is launching an investigation into baby formula scarcity. The House Energy and Commerce Committee recently stated that a hearing on the reasons for the scarcity, as well as initiatives to enhance supply and access to safe formula, will be held on May 25. Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey said “The nationwide infant formula shortages are increasingly alarming and demand Congress.”

Supply chain challenges and labor shortages have caused the retail formula supply to be sparse for months, but the situation was rapidly exacerbated in February with a nationwide recall of Abbott Nutrition formula, one of the country’s top suppliers. A rare bacteria that can cause fatal illnesses in newborns prompted the recall. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered Abbott’s manufacturing factory in Michigan to close after two newborns died.

Lawmakers have taken note and are writing letters to the FDA seeking answers. The meeting’s witnesses have not yet been confirmed, but a representative for the Energy and Commerce Committee told The Hill that for the hearing to be productive, “the Committee needs to hear directly from FDA and Abbott.” 

On Wednesday, Abbott stated “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 added that “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.”

However, it is unclear when the FDA will authorize the company’s reopening. Inspectors stated they saw severe food safety concerns at the facility that might have contaminated formula, including five distinct strains of Cronobacter on the floor and the wall. Abbott claims that it has already corrected the problems and made improvements to the plant in response to the agency’s concerns.

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