FDA’s Califf to face lawmakers during baby formula shortage

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf will face a grilling from members of Congress Thursday as the Biden Administration continues to grapple with the ongoing baby formula shortage across the country. 

Califf will appear before a House Appropriations subcommittee, ostensibly to go over the FDA’s budget request for FY 2023. 

However, Califf is certain to face questions about the FDA’s response to the baby formula shortage, the closure of an Abbott Nutrition factory in Michigan — where a February recall has been linked to the crisis — as well as the fact that only nine people are assigned to address baby formula within the entire agency. 

“It’s a major emphasis of mine to get this budget increase so that we have adequate staff,” Califf told CBS News on Monday. “I do want to note that the nine people have been working night and day. In fact, over the entire weekend, we had multiple groups pitching in to deal with this shortage.”

Parents have been left scrambling to buy various name-brand instant baby formula since the closure of Abbott’s Sturgis, Mich. plant.
JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

During a media round earlier this week, the commissioner insisted that the issue is not a lack of baby formula, but problems with distribution.

“I don’t want this to sound in any way like we’re not concerned about the parents that are struggling to find formula for their children. That’s definitely happening in parts of the country,” he told CNN on Monday before insisting “there is formula out there.”

“But you know, the number of stock on shelves is about 90% before … the recall, and it dropped to about 79% at its lowest, and we’re on the way back up now.” 

It will be weeks before the the Abbott manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan will be able to put product on the shelves again.
JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images

The hearing comes just one day after President Biden agreed to invoke the Defense Production Act to ensure formula producers can acquire the necessary material to put the product back on the shelves. 

Parents have been left scrambling to buy various name-brand instant baby formula since the closure of Abbott’s Sturgis, Mich. plant.

The company said this week it had reached an agreement with the FDA on necessary steps before the facility can reopen. However, even after the agency gives the green light, it will take up to two weeks for formula production to restart and up to eight weeks before the product can hit the shelves. 

To immediately resolve the shortage, the Biden administration is seeking help from abroad, unveiling what it called Operation Fly Formula to ferry product into the US after the FDA eased import rules. 

The Biden administration has been facing increasing criticism as the shortage continues – with the president drawing heat for telling reporters Friday that authorities could only have dealt with the situation more effectively “if we’d been better mind-readers, I guess.”

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