Activity on infant formula shortage shifts to Capitol Hill
Action on the infant formula shortage shifted to Capitol Hill today following announcements by the White House that the Food and Drug Administration will allow imports of infant formula, that agreement has been reached for Abbott to put its Michigan infant formula factory back into operation and that the Agriculture Department is working with states to address shortages under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.; Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; and Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., held a news conference to promote legislation that Hayes and Rep. Michelle Steel, R-Calif., are introducing to address the infant formula shortage.
Hayes said the Access to Baby Formula Act will grant the Agriculture Department the authority to waive certain requirements for infant formula in WIC through which about half the infant formula in the country is purchased.
“As a young mom, I turned to the WIC program to help my family,” Hayes said in a news release. “My bill, the Access to Baby Formula Act, helps improve access to formula products for WIC participants, while also ensuring participants are better protected during future product recalls.”
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., added, “While I am encouraged that the Biden administration and Abbott Nutrition have come to an agreement to restart production, I remain committed to working with my colleagues to ensure families can maintain access to the formula they need in the interim and in the future.”
Meanwhile, Brian Dittmeier, senior director of public policy at the National WIC Association (NWA), said, “Since day one of Abbott’s recall of certain infant formula products, the Biden administration has worked across agencies to address limited supply and provide relief for parents. Today’s actions by the White House continue to put families first as the administration leverages all available tools and works with a broad range of stakeholders to account for the consequences of Abbott’s recall.”
Dittmeier added, “The more than 1.2 million infants receiving formula benefits through WIC are typically limited by federal law to a specific brand of infant formula. Swift steps taken by USDA and WIC agencies shortly after the recall and additional actions announced today by the president ensure that a broader range of products – including larger container sizes and additional brands – are available to WIC families. To guarantee formula-fed infants have the nutrition they need to thrive, WIC families must not be limited in their options when manufacturers are still grappling with how to put stock on the shelves.”
Referring to Republicans blaming the Biden administration for the shortage of formula, Dittmeier added, “It is unsettling that anyone would exploit this moment – when parents are struggling to figure out how to feed their babies – for the purpose of personal profit.
“We must remain mindful of the structural factors that led to this moment, including the extreme consolidation of the infant formula market. When so few companies – with such highly centralized operations – command the overwhelming majority of the domestic infant formula supply, a single plant being shuttered for a few weeks can have catastrophic effects. We will continue to work with the interagency efforts, industry stakeholders and community partners to keep all parties focused on what truly matters: the health and well-being of our nation’s babies.”
Stabenow today asked the Agriculture Department to “take all actions necessary” to relieve the infant formula shortage, especially for participants in WIC, which USDA manages.
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Stabenow said, “I appreciate the flexibilities that USDA has provided to states to enable WIC participants to have more options when purchasing infant formula with their WIC benefits during this time. However, this serious situation demands continued action, and more must be done to address the shortage and the impact on families and babies.”
In two stories today, Reuters reported that Nestle is flying infant formula to the United States from the Netherlands and Switzerland, and Reckitt Benckiser is boosting baby formula production by about 30%.
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