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Leader Rodgers: Parents Need Immediate Action and Answers on the Baby Formula Crisis


05.25.22

Washington, D.C. — Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) delivered the following remarks in today’s Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee hearing on the formula shortage crisis in the United States.

Excerpts and highlights from her prepared remarks:

ON THE TRAGEDY IN TEXAS

“Before I begin, I want to address the school shooting in Texas.

“I kissed my children this morning and sent them off to school and I thought about the possibility of it being the last time that I would see them.

“Schools are where are children should be safe, learning, and thriving, making friends and being kids.

“I know we are all anxious to get all the information.

“We all want answers as to what puts someone in a place to take young innocent lives.

“There’s this overwhelming sense that people are struggling. Crime is going up. There’s a mental health crisis.

“These are courageous conversations we should be having together and I hope that we do to help end this despair and bring hope to communities again.”

THE CRISIS FACING PARENTS

“Now, regarding today’s hearing and the crisis point we’ve hit on baby formula shortages. Parents shouldn’t have to drive hours, paying record-high gas prices, visiting multiple stores to find some formula after midnight to finally feed their child for just two or three more days.

“That is the reality of this crisis in America today.

“It’s putting newborns and babies in the hospital.

“There are parents who are unsure if tomorrow they’ll be able to feed their baby.

“They need support and immediate meaningful action to increase supply.

“They also deserve answers.

“There are several reasons for this shortage, including failure by FDA and the Biden administration to act early enough to address supply shortages, and the Abbott shutdown that made this worse.”

THE FDA FAILED TO HAVE AN IMMEDIATE PLAN

“The Biden administration says it did not anticipate the formula shortage. But, it should have.

“As part of its pandemic response, FDA had a data analytics tool to monitor the supply chains of various products including infant formula.

“The FDA’s food safety center was in contact with the infant formula industry to monitor ingredients and other components for production and to maintain a healthy and safe supply.

“A January Wall Street Journal article, a month before the Abbott plant closed, reported problems of ‘hard-to-find’ formula.

“The FDA didn’t have to quote ‘read minds’ as the President dismissively suggested.

“They just had to read their own data and listen to parents.

“With Abbott being a major supplier and given the information at its disposal, the FDA should have known the plant closure would make the shortage even worse.”

FDA FAILED TO LEARN FROM ITS OWN HISTORY

“This is not the first time FDA has been confronted with looming supply crisis.

“In 2004, the U.S. flu vaccine supply was provided by only two manufacturers. One of the two manufacturers, a British company called Chiron shut down after FDA inspectors found safety problems.

“That meant just before flu season, half of the U.S. flu vaccine supply was gone.

“The Bush administration immediately took action to secure doses from other manufacturers and encourage foreign manufacturers to seek licensure from the FDA.

“When Abbott’s Sturgis plant closed in February, the Biden administration should have likewise acted with urgency to increase supply — on day one.

“Instead, the FDA didn’t act decisively until parents and media coverage forced them to move publicly.”

THE FDA’S FAILED RESPONSE

“FDA failed to react promptly to the warning signs it was getting about the Abbott Nutrition plant.

“In September 2021, FDA conducted an inspection and issued a 39-page report that found hazardous food safety practices and that product could have been contaminated.

“Around the same time the FDA received four complaints of Cronobacter infections in infants. Tragically, two of the babies died. All had reportedly consumed Abbott Nutrition product, though a link has yet to be established.

“In October 2021, the FDA received a 34-page complaint about the Sturgis plant from an Abbott ex-employee who alleged data falsification and release of untested product.

“There was a life and death crisis in front of the FDA, but they failed to see the severity of the situation.

“FDA reportedly did not interview the whistleblower until months later and did not reinspect the plant until January 2022.

“FDA did not even form an incident management group on infant formula until April 1, 2022 — more than 6 months after it found issues with the Abbott plan.”

WE MUST PASS THE BABIES NEED FORMULA NOW ACT

“This hearing is an opportunity to ensure parents are certain the FDA does not repeat mistakes that led to these shortages.

“I’m leading the Babies Need Formula Now Act to increase supply and restock empty shelves as soon as possible.

“This legislation also requires more oversight and accountability to ensure the Biden FDA is doing its job, acting quickly to maintain a healthy and safe supply of formula, and not wasting time or resources.

“We must solve the immediate issue and ensure parents can feed their babies now while also addressing the regulations and government policies that have made our formula supply chains so fragile.

“I look forward to hearing from Commissioner Califf on what the FDA did wrong and how we can ensure parents are never put in this situation again.”

Press Release