(The Center Square) – The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday the agency will investigate the national shortage of baby formula that has left American parents concerned and frustrated.
The shortage began last year but was exacerbated after problems at a baby formula plant in Sturgis, Michigan, leading the company Abbott to issue a recall on formula and shut down production in February. FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told NBC in an interview Monday that there will be a “full investigation” after a whistleblower report said there were problems at that factory in October, but an FDA inspector did not look into the issue until January.
“We always want to be as fast as we can possibly be while also being diligent, remembering, as shown by this example, that if we didn’t close the plant, then we have a supply shortage so we have to get this right,” Califf said in the interview. "There will be a full investigation of the timeline, and we'll do everything possible to correct any errors in timing that we had so that we don't repeat any mistakes that may have been made."
Also Monday, Abbott said it has reached a federal consent decree with the FDA that could allow its Sturgis plant to resume production in two weeks. It would take about six to eight weeks after that for the baby formula to be available to consumers.
The data company Datasembly reported that as of the week ending May 8, the national out of stock rate for baby formula hit 43%. The company said the product was already experiencing supply issues last year before the larger issues arose.
“This issue has been compounded by supply chain challenges, product recalls and historic inflation," Datasembly CEO Ben Reich said. "The category started to see stocking challenges beginning in July 2021, and the situation has continued to worsen into 2022."
Critics have blasted the Biden administration for its response to the shortage, which has left many parents scrambling to find formula. Biden came under fire for his response to a question from a reporter asking if he should have acted more quickly to address the baby formula shortage.
“If we’d been better mind readers, I guess we could have, but we moved as quickly as the problem became apparent to us and we have to move with caution as well as fear,” Biden said.
Those comments sparked controversy and led critics to point out the recall was issued in February, giving several months to anticipate the shortage.
“I’ve been calling on the Biden admin to address America’s baby formula shortage since February,” U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., wrote on Twitter. “They did nothing.”
The Biden administration said it is working with suppliers to help solve the shortage.
"We're very close to having a path forward to safely reopening the facility," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Republicans blasted Biden for the shortage, saying his efforts have been too little too late.
“In typical fashion, the Biden administration downplayed the baby formula shortage for months,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said. “Now that it's a crisis, they're pointing the finger at anyone but themselves.”