The shortage is in part fueled by the months-long closure of Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis, Michigan plant, one of the largest suppliers of infant formula in the US and also a major supplier of various specialty formulas used by thousands of babies, children and adults. with metabolic, allergic and gastrointestinal disorders. In February, the manufacturer recalled several products after FDA inspectors launched an investigation into complaints that four babies were hospitalized with rare bacteria after consuming factory-produced formula. Two babies died.
Retail formula supplies have been relatively short since last summer, but the problem appears to have worsened in recent weeks. Now, the mainstream media has latched onto the issue, and Republican lawmakers have tried to turn it into a political weapon against Biden, urging the White House to do more to help increase the bid.
“It appears that while President Biden’s administration and the FDA knew all about this issue as it developed, they were sleeping on the switch in terms of getting back online as quickly as possible,” said the minority leader on the Senate. Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on Thursday.
Democrats also weighed in, with the House Appropriations Speaker Rose DeLauro (D-Conn.) suggesting that the Defense Production Act be invoked. DeLauro said Thursday that his committee will hold a hearing on the matter on May 25. The Chamber of Energy and Commerce announced a hearing on the same day.
The president is not invoking the Defense Production Act at this time, the senior administration official said Thursday, while acknowledging that the administration does not have a timetable for supplies to return to normal.
“We don’t have an estimate today of when Abbott’s availability will be online,” the senior administration official said.
The US produces 98% of the infant formula they consume, in addition to importing products from Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands. The FDA will announce additional measures in the coming days “concerning the importation of certain infant formula products from abroad,” the announcement said.
Parents across the country have been posting pictures of nearly empty shelves at retailers for weeks. But the availability of infant formula varies by region, according to retail data. A custom analysis by Datasembly last week found that over the past two weeks, the percentage of baby products in short supply nationwide has increased from 31 to 40%. Some states have seen out-of-stock rates that exceed 50%.
IRI, another data analytics firm that pulls information directly from retailers, found that the average inventory rate is currently around 79% in the US — far below pre-pandemic norms of 95%, but not critically low.
The most pressing concern is the supply of amino acids, or elemental formulas – a class of product that serves a smaller slice of the population, but is often an important, if not the only source of nutrition for children and adults with special medical needs such as POLITICO reported last week.
Meredith Lee contributed to this report.