Washington (AFP) – Under criticism from parents and politicians, President Joe Biden is providing formula makers and retailers with transportation and logistical support to ease a nationwide shortage of infant formula, as the administration works to bring the world’s largest domestic factory back to work after it shuttered at the time. Early this year due to safety issues.
The White House said it is working with all major formula producers to boost production, including reaching out to their suppliers to encourage them to prioritize production and delivery of formula ingredients. It comes as the Biden administration has been under intense pressure over the past week to do more to alleviate the formula shortage This forced parents of children to make great efforts to feed their children.
The shortage stems from the February recall of Abbott, the nation’s largest fixture maker, which shut down the company’s plant in Michigan and exacerbated ongoing supply chain disruptions among fixture makers, leaving fewer options on store shelves in much of the country. Shortages have led retailers like CVS and Target to limit the number of containers customers can buy per visit and have forced some parents to swap and sell the formula online.
On Monday, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told ABC News’ Good Morning America that the federal agency was “working closely with Abbott” to reopen the shuttered Michigan plant, and predicted that “in a very short period of time we’ll go get an announcement.” on the path forward.”
An announcement is imminent about importing infant formula from abroad, Califf said, noting that the key is to make sure the instructions for the formula are in languages that mothers and caregivers can understand.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned families not to make their own infant formula because it contains 30 distinct ingredients that must be in the right amount, or else the formula could be dangerous to consume.
Abbott’s voluntary recall was caused by four illnesses reported in children who ingested Michigan plant-based formula milk powder. All four children were hospitalized with a rare type of bacterial infection and two died.
Abbott is one of only four companies that produce nearly 90% of US formula, so its shutdown has dented already limited supplies.
After a six-week examination, FDA investigators published a list of problems in March, including lax safety and health standards and a history of bacterial contamination in several parts of the plant.
But Chicago-based Abbott stressed that its products are not directly linked to bacterial infections in children. The bacteria samples found at her factory did not match the strains collected from the children by federal investigators. The company has repeatedly stated that it is ready to resume manufacturing, pending a decision by the Food and Drug Administration.
Former Food and Drug Administration officials say it takes time to fix the kind of problems detected at the Abbott plant, and infant formula facilities receive more scrutiny than other food facilities. Companies need a thorough cleaning of the facility and equipment, retraining of employees, frequent testing and documentation of the absence of contamination.
Even if the facility reopens soon, the Food and Drug Administration will still face scrutiny in its handling of issues at the plant.
Food and Drug Administration inspectors visited the plant in September for a routine check, around the time the infant’s first bacterial infection was reported. Although inspectors revealed numerous violations—including standing water and unsanitary conditions—the Food and Drug Administration did not shut down the plant or issue any official warning.
Only after several diseases were reported did the Food and Drug Administration return to the plant in January, this time finding a history of bacterial contamination in several parts of the plant. Then Abbott closed the facility and recalled several powder formulations in mid-February.
Congressman Rosa DeLoro reported last month that a whistleblower contacted the Food and Drug Administration in October about unsafe conditions and practices at the plant, including falsifying plant records and failing to properly test the formula for contamination.
She and other lawmakers are scheduled to question Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Calif on the issue and others at a hearing scheduled for Thursday.
This story has been updated to correct the timing of the whistleblower complaint to October, not September.
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