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Rep. McMorris Rodgers Sponsors Babies Need Formula Now Act

(The Center Square) – Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, started the week sharply criticizing the Biden administration for its handling of a nationwide baby formula shortage.

Then she paired legislation with her criticisms.

McMorris Rodgers introduced the Babies Need Formula Now Act on Wednesday to address the crisis.

“The baby formula supply crisis is a matter of life and death,” said McMorris Rodgers in a statement. “We need formula restocked as soon as possible. That’s why the Babies Need Formula Now Act will make sure the FDA is using every flexibility for parents to access safe formulas, including from abroad.

“It also holds President Biden and his administration accountable if red tape at the FDA is preventing new formulas from reaching the shelves.”

Under the Act, restrictions are temporarily lifted to allow parents to order formula from countries that have similar safety standards to the U.S., she said.

McMorris Rodgers said it is not enough for Congress to give the Biden administration $28 million in emergency funding to address the formula crisis. She said more oversight of the FDA is necessary to ensure the agency is acting as quickly as possible to get more formula onto grocery store shelves.

To prevent dangerous shortages from happening again, McMorris Rodgers said the Act lifts FDA-imposed barriers that restrict new types and brands of formula from entering the marketplace.

“It ensures more competition so more formula will reach the shelves and parents will have more options to keep their babies fed,” she said

She said that when there is a recall for labeling unrelated to the quality of the product, the Act requires the FDA to notify Congress of the problem and provide a plan to address any supply issues that may arise. The agency and manufacturer of the recalled formula must also coordinate a resolution of issues as soon as possible.

McMorris Rodgers said Monday that it is beyond time for the FDA to answer tough questions about why action wasn’t taken to ward off the shortage. She also wants to know why steps weren’t taken immediately to resolve the crisis. 

She particularly wanted 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.

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. 

Abbott announced on Monday that it had reached a federal consent decree with the FDA that would allow its Sturgis plant to resume production in two weeks. It will take about six to eight weeks after that for the baby formula to be available to consumers.

McMorris Rodgers said panicked American parents cannot wait almost two months for reassurance that they will be able to provide food for their infants.