Other’s Opinion: FDA fell down on the job in baby formula shortage

Published 6:36 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2022

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The Free Press, Mankato

COVID-driven shortages of everything from toilet paper to new automobiles have become common and accepted in the past couple of years. For the most part, waiting longer or buying an alternative product isn’t a big deal.

But the baby formula shortage that’s intensified in recent weeks is a big deal. Many babies need formula to stay healthy and develop.

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The shortages have led desperate parents to drive long distances to find formula. And some have been victims of scammers, sending money for promised formula that never arrives.

And some people have watered down the formula they have left to make it stretch, which can be a dangerous practice according to experts, leading to malnourished babies.

The shortages didn’t have to happen — or at least not to the extent they did.

Last week lawmakers on Capitol Hill hammered officials from the Food and Drug Administration and from Abbott Nutrition, a huge supplier of formula.

The FDA, which is charged with protecting the safety and supply of drugs and food, fell down on the job. Lawmakers said the agency has let problems in its food safety programs deteriorate while it has prioritized drugs and medicines.

The FDA failed to properly inspect baby formula plants, leading to problems at plants that required Abbott to recall formula and slow production.

The FDA also failed to see the looming formula shortage and do something about it, namely importing and stockpiling baby formula from countries whose formula meets U.S. standards.

Abbott, too, drew criticism for failing to operate in a way that would have prevented recalls.

But Congress also bears some responsibility. It has underfunded the FDA for many years.

Thankfully, the formula shortage appears to be easing as the federal government has allowed importing of more formula and is pressuring Abbott to ramp up production.

Government agencies that regulate a wide variety of products and businesses often come under attack by critics who say they spend too much tax money and overregulate. But the baby formula shortage shows just how much the agencies are needed and how they must take their jobs seriously.