A severe shortage in baby formula has drawn the attention of members of Iowa’s congressional delegation and has become a campaign issue as well.
Spot shortages in many groceries and pharmacies have been exacerbated by a Food and Drug Administration recall that stopped production at Abbot’s largest U.S. formula manufacturing plant in Michigan. As supply disruptions and the massive safety recall have continued, several big box retailers have begun rationing sales of the formula.
“It’s very concerning,” Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters Wednesday.
After hearing about the scarcity at his county meetings, Grassley wrote the FDA to ask what it is doing to address the shortage.
He cited reports that at least 40% of baby formula supplies in the U.S. are completely depleted. Iowa was among six mostly Midwestern states where more than half of all baby formula was completely sold out during the week of April 24.
“It’s pretty much looking for a needle in a haystack,” Rachel Beadle, who recently moved from Marion to Des Moines, told The Gazette in April.
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According to the Biden administration, the FDA “is "working around the clock” to address the shortage. Manufacturers say they're producing at full capacity, but it's still not enough to meet demand.
“I’m going to keep on top of it. We got to help families feed their kids, and empty shelves are unacceptable,” Grassley said.
That’s not enough for former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who is among Democrats seeking to challenge Grassley's re-election this fall.
She called it “shocking” that it has taken Grassley and other members of Congress this long to address “a national crisis when you have people not being able to feed their children the nutrition they need to thrive and survive.”
Finkenauer has called for the Biden administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to force manufacturers to produce more formula.
“We need all hands on deck to address the dangerous shortage of baby formula in Iowa and across the country,” Finkenauer said. Invoking the act would bring “any and all federal resources to the table to increase the supply of baby formula and address the shortage.
“It just seems like the rational and right thing to do,” she said.
It might be an appropriate tool, Grassley said when asked about invoking the act, but didn’t think it would necessarily solve the contamination issues that led to the production shutdown at Abbott.
“You wouldn't want to put the Defense Production Act into action and then produce unsafe food,” he said.
Iowa Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson joined a colleague in writing the FDA asking for a timeline for when baby formula is expected to be sufficiently restocked as well as a long-term plan to minimize supply chain disruptions for formula.
“Parents who are unsure how to provide this essential sustenance for their babies and worried about the nutritional impacts of this supply chain shortage, Hinson and New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik wrote. “As moms ourselves, we know the stress this is causing in so many households.”
Families already worried about higher food and fuel prices now “have the added stress of not knowing if the baby formula they need will even be in stock," Hinson said.
She called on the Biden administration to prioritize fixing supply chain disruptions to replenish the supply of infant formula. “I'll work with anyone who will work with me to ensure that families don't have this extra burden,” she said.
Iowa Republican Rep. Miller-Meeks has joined bipartisan legislation to encourage competition, reduce costs and improve the quality of infant formula options available through the Women, Infants, and Children program by creating an online database. It’s a companion to bipartisan Senate legislation.
Fourth District Republican Rep. Randy Feenstra called the situation “dire, threatening babies who rely on formula for their health and development.”
He joined a colleague in proposing the Formula Act, to direct the FDA to establish and communicate to Congress clear standards by which it domestically regulates infant formula.
Gazette Des Moines Bureau Chief Erin Murphy contributed to this report.