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McMorris Rodgers Demands Answers from FDA on Baby Formula Crisis

(The Center Square) – Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, says it is beyond time for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to answer tough questions about why action wasn’t taken to ward off a nationwide baby formula shortage. She also wants to know why steps weren’t taken immediately to resolve the crisis. 

“We have been sounding the alarm for months,” she said in a Monday appearance on Fox News. “Why did the FDA not figure this out sooner? It’s become a desperate situation.”

On Monday, McMorris joined Fox hosts John Roberts and Jacqui Heinrich to discuss the “desperate” fears of American families with infants.

She is the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In that role, she is calling for FDA Commissioner Robert Califf to appear before the committee to answer questions.

First and foremost, McMorris Rodgers wants to know why the agency took months to act on whistleblower complaints from October.

Last fall, a whistleblower sent the FDA a 34-page document outlining potential concerns at Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan. The former employee accused the plant of lax cleaning practices, falsifying records, releasing untested formula and hiding information during a 2019 audit by the FDA, among other concerns.

McMorris Rodgers said the FDA did not interview the whistleblower until December and did not send an inspector to the plant until January. A recall due to reports of bacterial infections was not issued until February for select lots of Similac, Alimentm and EleCare formulas.

“It is like a black hole at the FDA,” she said of trying to get answers.

She said other developed nations have offered formula, but the Biden administration has not accepted most of that help. In addition, she said manufacturers across the U.S. have offered to help with production, but the administration has not approved that plan either.

“This is where Congress must do the oversight,” said McMorris Rodgers. “We must do our jobs as the elected representatives of the people to get answers as to why this happened, why it’s taken so long, and what the plan is from the FDA.”

With formula already subject to supply chain disruptions before FDA shuttered the Michigan plant, McMorris Rodgers said the administration should have had a backup plan in place to meet a fundamental need. 

She said 106 GOP lawmakers joined her in sending a letter to the White House and Califf on May 12 demanding answers about what the administration is doing to fill empty store shelves.

“This issue is a matter of life and death, and it is time the administration treats it with the appropriate urgency it deserves,” states the letter.

McMorris Rodgers said parents in America should not be facing the fear their babies will go hungry. 

“Moms and dads should be able to walk into the grocery store and find the formula their baby needs,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to drive hours paying record-high gas prices, only to find more empty shelves. They shouldn’t have to be rationing formula to keep their babies fed.”

Califf told NBC News on Monday that his agency is conducting a thorough review of what has happened. 

“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,” he said.

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.

McMorris Rodgers criticized President Joe Biden’s initial response to questions about whether his administration could have done more to prevent the shortages.

“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 told a reporter.

McMorris Rodgers said the baby formula crisis is the worst yet under a Biden administration that continues to place undue hardship on American families. 

“What will it take for the Biden administration to reverse its inflation, supply chain, and energy crises that are making this shortage worse?” she asked.

Biden directed his administration last week to work urgently to make more formula available to families, states a White House website posting.

Toward that end, the president reportedly spoke with retailers and manufacturers, including Wal-Mart, Target, Reckitt, and Gerber, about ways to help more families gain access to formula.

The post outlines that administration officials are now working to cut red tape to get formula to stores faster. In addition, retailers will face penalties for price gouging or otherwise engaging in unfair market practices.

The White House said the FDA will also soon announce steps it is taking to open more avenues for imported formula.