US House panel sets hearing on baby formula shortage exacerbated by recall from Michigan plant
WASHINGTON — A U.S. House committee on Wednesday announced plans for a May 25 hearing on a national baby formula shortage fueled in part by a February recall by the manufacturer Abbot for products made at its Michigan plant.
Those recalled products included powder formula sold under the labels Similac, Alimentum and EleCare labels after four children became ill with bacterial infections and two died. The Abbott Laboratories plant in the southwest Michigan town of Sturgis remains closed.
No witness information has yet been announced by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which scheduled the May 25 hearing, but a spokesman said it's likely that Abbott will be invited to testify.
"In order for the hearing to be productive, we believe the committee needs to hear directly from FDA and Abbott," spokesman CJ Young said.
Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, said the focus would be on the causes of the shortage, what is being done to boost production and supply so far and what else could be done.
"The nationwide infant formula shortages are increasingly alarming and demand Congress' immediate attention," Pallone said in a statement. "Ensuring the safety and well-being of our nation's children, including safe and nutritious formula, is one of our most important collective responsibilities."
Some retailers have begun limiting how much formula consumers may purchase at once.
The formula shortage has been "compounded by supply chain challenges, product recalls and historic inflation," according to CEO Ben Reich of the firm Datasembly, which tracks retail pricing and availability.
Abbott has stressed that inspections by the Food and Drug Administration and the company have suggested that the infant formula produced at the Sturgis facility is "not likely" the source of infection in the reported cases of illness, and that there was not an outbreak caused by products from the facility.
"We know this situation has worsened the industry-wide infant formula supply shortage and we regret the anxiety and stress this is causing," Joe Manning, Abbott's executive vice president for nutritional products, said in a late April statement.
"Abbott is committed to working with the FDA to address this situation so we can resume operations at this facility and continue serving the nutritional needs of people who rely on our infant and specialty formulas."
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the FDA was "working around the clock to address any possible shortages."
Steps are being taken to work with major formula manufacturers to encourage them to boost production, improving supply lines and product sizes to increase capacity, and trying to expedite imports of foreign baby formula to increase supply, Psaki said.