Shortage of infant formula: Abbott and the FDA will take heat in Congress, reports Crain’s Juice

Nancy Pelosi, right, and Rosa DeLauro speak to the press on Tuesday.

Congressional action and rhetoric on the infant formula shortage has intensified and will only grow as suppliers including North Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories and the Food and Drug Administration come under scrutiny. scrutiny in hearings this week and next.

At the same Tuesday press conference in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed that “there may be a need for indictments” from unspecified parties in the crisis, and another member of the House alleged Abbott “lied” and “cut corners,” Democrats stressed that upcoming hearings will seek answers on the crisis.

MORE: Pelosi issues indictments in infant formula crisis

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf will testify before the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday about the agency’s budget, but Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said Califf would be questioned about the management by the FDA of the formula shortage, which was triggered in part by the closure of Abbott’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan, in February.

Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment on DeLauro or Pelosi’s remarks.

Next week, May 25, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will address the issue, hearing from Califf and other FDA officials as well as Division President Christopher J. Calamari. Abbott Nutrition in the United States and Canada and senior vice president of the entire company. Executives from two other vendors are also set to testify: Gerber Products as well as Reckitt, the parent company of Chicago-based Enfamil maker Mead Johnson.

“Those are the three companies that produce about 80% of the supply,” Rep. Frank Pallone, DN.J., president of energy and commerce, said at Pelosi’s press conference.

Raja Krishnamoorthi COD/Flickr Newsroom

Meanwhile, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Schaumburg, will be keenly interested. As my colleague Greg Hinz reported last week, Krishnamoorthi sent letters, along with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, DN.Y., to Abbott and three other infant formula suppliers requesting information and documents about the shortage. . In March, Krishnamoorthi sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Califff asking why the agency waited until Feb. 17 to warn consumers not to use any preparation from the Abbott factory in Michigan when the agency received for the first time reports of contaminated preparation in September 2021.

Krishnamoorthi, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s economic and consumer policy subcommittee, said in an interview with Crain’s that the current crisis is “just another situation where the FDA is slow to act. Unfortunately, this time the babies suffer.

He said one of the lessons from Washington is that it takes a crisis for the federal government to respond. While he praised some of the FDA’s efforts to respond, such as taking steps to allow importation of formulas from foreign production facilities, “some of these actions should have taken place a long time ago.”

Karen Christian, a partner at the Akin Gump law firm in Washington and former Republican general counsel on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said lawmakers investigating the crisis “shouldn’t be rushing to blame one party. or another”.

“It looks like it’s more complicated than that,” she said. Congress should examine things like market concentration in the infant formula industry, whether suppliers could have done more to prevent problems, and how the FDA handled this issue.

“Basically, how did we get here? said Christian. “If we step back and look at these larger issues, it would be a productive hearing.”

Similac ajay_suresh/Flickr