Baby formula
Powdered baby formula – a crucial source of nutrition for infants who struggle with breastfeeding or whose mothers are unable to nurse. Credit: New Africa / Shutterstock

Parents of infants are struggling to find ways to feed their children in the wake of a national baby formula shortage, prompting some to make hard decisions including potentially feeding their babies formula that may be contaminated, according to comments during a press availability this morning with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

Asked about what she thinks about such a scenario – that feeding a baby potentially compromised formula rather than having them go without – DeLauro said parents are desperate. The example as it was relayed to DeLauro is that the mother in question did check with a doctor. 

“But think about that,” DeLauro said. “Think about that. Imagine the parent saying ‘I have to. It is a specialized product. My doctor says to go for it, try it.’ But don’t you think that the parent at some level says ‘I may be taking a chance with my baby,’ and why should parents be in this situation?” 

DeLauro told reporters that she is pursuing legislation that she hopes will help get baby formula on the shelves to parents who are in immediate need. 

She also wants answers from the Federal Drug and Administration as to why officials there didn’t release the information to the public in a timely manner. 

She said the FDA first learned of a potential link between a foodborne pathogen and powdered infant formula manufactured by the Abbott Laboratories in a facility in Sturgis, Michigan in September of 2021. The whistleblower report was submitted to the FDA in October. The FDA didn’t recall the formula until February of this year. 

In March, DeLauro called on the Office of the Inspector General to conduct an investigation, the preliminary results of which she hopes to get today. 

Meanwhile, Abbott has released a statement about what steps that company is taking now, including releasing their findings about an internal investigation into the Sturgis, Michigan plant, which they said found no evidence to link their formulas to any illnesses in infants. 

“The February voluntary recall involved four complaints of Cronobacter sakazakii — a common environmental bacteria — in infants who consumed infant formulas produced in this plant. Two infants became sick; two tragically passed away,” the statement reads. “After a thorough review of all available data, there is no evidence to link our formulas to these infant illnesses.”

Abbott representatives said, through a May 13 update of the online statement, that the company is working to address the FDA’s 483 observations so it can restart operations at the Sturgis, Mich., facility. 

“We immediately began implementing corrective actions and subject to FDA approval, we could restart our Sturgis, Mich., site within two weeks,” the statement read. “We are confident that we can continue to produce safe, high-quality infant formula at all of our facilities as we have been doing for millions of babies around the world for decades.”

The House Appropriations Committee is holding two hearings to examine the matter – one on Thursday and another on May 25. 

DeLauro said the FDA should have been quick to warn the public about the potential safety risk posed to the public. 

“It laid out in a very detailed way about what Abbott did or did not do. They were selling a contaminated product,” DeLauro said of the whistleblower’s report. Among other things Abbott falsified records, and did not practice sound policy regarding cleanliness, according to the whistleblower, DeLauro said.

DeLauro, along with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, released today a letter they drafted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) demanding urgent action to address the nationwide infant formula shortage.

The text of the letter to the FDA is available here. The text of the letter to the FTC is available here.

In addition to safety concerns, DeLauro said there is a supply issue and that she will propose legislation to address the funding needed for the shortage so that formula is on the shelves now. 

There are 21 facilities that produce infant formula products for the U.S. market, DeLauro said, of which 7 are in Europe, 2 in Mexico and 12 in the U.S. DeLauro said formulas should not be accepted from just anywhere in the world, but officials should do so when the facility producing it is FDA approved. 

The shortage is also prompting folks to go online to platforms such as Amazon to purchase formulas, DeLauro said. 

“I met a gentleman yesterday. His wife is about to give birth and he was hearing me speak about this and he said to me that she is understanding the nature of the problem and looking into where she can get supplies,” DeLauro said. “She was looking at Australia. I think people are trying to examine whatever platforum they can to be able to get what they need to feed their babies.” 

However, the public needs to be aware about price gouging if they go that route, DeLauro said.

According to the letter DeLauro and Blumenthal sent to the FTC, families have reported price gouging. They reported a search on eBay that revealed a 3-pack of Similac that normally sells for $130 being sold for $238, and other retailers are marking up a can of formula from $30 to $80. 

“Raising an infant is a stressful enough experience without wondering whether or not you will be able to find—or afford—the food your child desperately needs to grow, thrive, and stay healthy,” the letter states. 

Other examples include people posing as representatives of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), who are coming to doorsteps asking for recalled formula in exchange for a “refund.” 

The state Department of Public Health is, meanwhile, finding ways to help families during the shortage through its Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children program.  

DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani said families are having to go to multiple stores to find formula or they have to switch to other types that are available. “Some of the specialty formulas for medical conditions are scarce as well, and formula redemptions in Connecticut are down because the supply is very limited,” Juthani said in a prepared release posted on DPH’s website.  

Abbott is allowing the Connecticut WIC program to offer 80 comparable formulas when the company’s products are not available, officials said. DPH said they are not enforcing minimum stocking requirements for authorized retailers at this time.  

For information, the public can access the Connecticut WIC website