Politics

House Democrats introduce $28 million bill to address baby formula shortage

Washington — House Democrats on Tuesday introduced legislation to provide an additional $28 million to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help address the baby formula shortage affecting families across the country.

The supplemental appropriations bill from Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, would provide resources to keep fraudulent formula products from making their way onto store shelves and helps acquire better data on the formula marketplace. It would also fund the balance of needed FDA activities, bolster the workforce focused on formula issues and boost FDA inspection staff, according to the committee.

“The stories of mothers and fathers struggling to find formula and the images of empty store shelves are heartbreaking,” DeLauro said in a statement. “Parents and caretakers across the country cannot wait — they need our support now.”

DeLauro said the measure takes steps to restore the supply of infant formula in a “safe and secure manner,” and the additional money will help the FDA prevent future shortages.

“While we know we have more work to do to get to the bottom of serious safety concerns at an Abbott facility and the FDA’s failure to address them with any sense of urgency, this bill is the first step to help restock shelves and end this shortage,” she said.

The $28 million proposal is Congress’ first legislative step toward alleviating the baby formula shortage since headlines about empty store shelves began dominating the news earlier this month, though the White House has asserted it’s been working to address the issue for “months.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last Friday that the House will also bring up a bill granting emergency authority to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to address supply chain disruptions and recalls of formulas.

Already experiencing supply chain issues because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the baby formula shortage was exacerbated after a manufacturing plant from formula maker Abbott, the nation’s largest, was shuttered in February after FDA inspectors found a bacteria inside the Michigan facility. Abbott issued a recall for formula products made at its plant in Sturgis, Michigan, after four infants became sick with bacterial infections and two died.

A recent analysis from Datasembly, which tracks formula stock at more than 11,000 stores, found that 43% of the top-selling baby formula products were out of stock at retailers across the country as of the week ending May 8. Formula was more scarce in five states, where more than half of the top-selling products were not available.

As part of its efforts to alleviate the scramble for families nationwide, the FDA announced Monday it reached an agreement with Abbott on necessary steps to reopen the plant, with production expected to begin in roughly two weeks. Abbott said it will take between six and eight weeks for its products to get back on store shelves.

The FDA is also taking steps to ease import rules for overseas manufacturers, which will allow more formula products into the U.S. market. 

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