House Oversight leaders demand documents, communications from Biden FDA over mishandling of infant formula shortage crisis

March 22, 2023
Ben Marquis

Throughout much of 2022, there was a severe shortage of infant formula to be found on grocery store shelves, and now House Republicans are investigating how that crisis was initially ignored and then mishandled by President Joe Biden's administration, the Daily Wire reported.

In fact, two top members of the House Oversight Committee just sent a letter to the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to demand that certain relevant documents and communications be swiftly turned over to help answer the committee's inquisitive probe.

Infant formula shortage remains ongoing

According to the U.K.'s The Guardian, though not nearly as severe as around a year ago, the shortage of infant formula on store shelves is still being dealt with by some Americans, especially those in rural areas.

The crisis began in earnest in early 2022 when, acting belatedly on warnings from a whistleblower, the FDA issued a massive recall and then shut down and investigated a possible supply contamination issue at the Sturgis, Michigan factory for Abbott Laboratories, which is the largest factory in the U.S. for a company that provides approximately 40 percent of the nation's supply of formula.

Other companies attempted to step up to fill the void and the Biden administration, in a public relations stunt, relaxed certain rules and made a big show of importing formula from foreign suppliers to try and make up the difference, but the shortage remained severe, continues to this day, and will likely persist for at least several more months.

Abbott is now facing multiple serious investigations -- including from the Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission, and Securities and Exchange Commission -- not to mention hundreds of civil lawsuits. The Biden administration's FDA, however, has done very little to address the issue or hold itself accountable for its failures aside from announcing plans for a regulatory overhaul and creation of a new unit specializing in food safety.

Demands renewed for certain documents and communications

On Tuesday, a letter was sent to FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf from House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-KY) and Subcommittee on Health Care and Financial Services Chairwoman Rep. Lisa McClain (R-MI) to inform him of the investigation and renew multiple prior demands for certain documents and communications that were previously ignored.

"The Committee on Oversight and Accountability is continuing its investigation into the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) response to the infant formula shortage and its restructuring of the food and nutrition division in response to the infant formula shortage," the two chairs wrote. "The Reagan-Udall Foundation’s report titled 'Operational Evaluation of the FDA Human Foods Program,' found that there was 'little motivation, and no requirement,' to 'facilitate critical thinking and proactive decision-making' during the infant formula shortage."

"Despite this report, and the acknowledged need for a major overhaul, you stated that there would be no reassignments nor firings over the administration’s response to the infant formula shortage. We request documents and communications to understand the FDA’s response to the infant formula shortage," the lawmakers continued.

"Formula shortages began in the summer of 2021 as global supply chains were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic," the letter stated. "As the administration scrambled to contain the issue, families across the nation were presented with the question of how they would feed the infants in their families and communities."

"Now, instead of removing or reassigning the individuals at fault for the poor response to this crisis, the announced restructuring of the food and nutrition division simply requires certain offices and personnel to report to the newly created position of Deputy Commissioner for Human Foods. The Committee is concerned that the FDA’s restructuring is a superficial attempt -- rather than a real effort -- to bring accountability and make meaningful changes," the Republican chairs added.

The two chairs then set a date of April 4 for the FDA to comply with the committee's demands for all relevant documents and communications involving the FDA, Health and Human Services, and the White House; the reorganization plan -- including when it will be implemented and how certain units will be transitioned -- and search for a new deputy commissioner; and the decision to not fire or reassign any FDA employees.

Oversight subcommittee hearing upcoming

Relatedly, Chairwoman McClain also announced Tuesday that the subcommittee would hold a hearing on the FDA's handling of the infant formula shortage on March 28, and said in a statement, "Now more than a year after this crisis began, the Biden Administration continues to fail parents and caretakers across the country as they are still struggling to find infant formula to feed their babies, with no end in sight."

"American families deserve answers as to why the Food and Drug Administration and the Biden Administration ignored watchdog warnings for months, ultimately making the crisis worse. We are going to conduct oversight of the FDA and be sure we take steps to prevent another avoidable crisis like this from happening again," she added.

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