Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief Dr. Robert Califf was harshy criticized by House lawmakers Wednesday about delays investigating the nation’s largest baby formula plant that amplified an already growing shortage of the vital food supply for young families.
Califf said. “Some decisions in retrospect could have been more optimal.” He admitted Wednesday that the FDA has been “too slow” in responding to the baby formula shortage
The shortage, which began during the height of the pandemic, became worse following a February recall from Abbott Labs of Alimentum, Similac, and EleCare formulas. The recall was due to infants who used the products and contracted a Cronobacter sakazakii infection. Two infants died as a result.
The shortage caused a small number of kids to face malnourishment; it emptied store shelves and drove desperate parents from store to store and across state lines in search of formula.
In a statement, Abbott addressed the events which led to the FDA shutdown of its Michigan production plant. The company said, “After a thorough review of all available data, there is no evidence to link our formulas to these infant illnesses.”
The company noted that “Genetic sequencing on the two available samples from ill infants did not match strains of Cronobacter in our plant.”
Since the recall, average out-of-stock levels jumped as much as 9%, surging to about 40% throughout April, with some states seeing a shortage as high as 54% out-of-stock numbers.
In April, drugstore chains Walgreens and CVS Health and the department store Target began to limit how many baby formula products consumers can purchase at one time.
According to a statement given to NBC News, Walgreens said, “Due to increased demand and various supplier challenges, infant and toddler formulas are seeing constraints across the country.”
The average cost of baby formula has also risen sharply, with the national average cost increasing by 18% over the last 12 months.