The people responsible for contaminating batches of baby formula that led to the deaths of two infants and the national shortage might find themselves facing indictments, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
House Democrats have vowed to investigate the causes of the baby formula shortage that has left parents across the country scrambling to find the product, with Pelosi noting on Tuesday that Congress would hold people responsible if there is evidence of contamination. Her comments came the same day Democrats unveiled a bill that would give $28 million in aid toward restocking store shelves with formula.
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“When it comes to babies, it’s the here and now and in this moment,” Pelosi said. “I think that when all of this is done … I think there might be a need for indictment.”
The White House has also vowed to alleviate the formula shortage, with officials at the Food and Drug Administration prioritizing applications to expand production from baby formula suppliers and releasing guidance to import formula that is currently not on the U.S. market.
The recent baby formula shortage comes after a February recall of powdered formulas manufactured at Abbott Nutrition’s manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan, where operations have paused. Abbott issued a voluntary recall in February after receiving reports of infections in four babies caused by Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria that was linked to its formula.
Abbott, one of the largest producers of baby formula in the country, said it is “working closely with the FDA to implement corrective actions.” However, the company has maintained that the federal agency has not explicitly linked its formula to the illnesses, noting it would cooperate with the investigation.
The FDA and Abbott unveiled a plan on Monday that would allow the plant to reopen and begin manufacturing more formula, although the timeline is not yet clear.
Some lawmakers have accused the company of being negligent and denounced the FDA for not addressing the shortage earlier, which they say was months in the making.
“Recalls happen, but this company has lied. It’s cut corners and falsified records to cover up misdoing at the sake of infant health,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) on Tuesday. “That’s wrong. Just plain wrong.”
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The shortage was also exacerbated by an unexpected baby boom in the early stages of the pandemic that other manufacturers were not prepared for, as well as a recent decline in breastfeeding that has caused an increased demand for formula.
Meanwhile, Abbott is ramping up production at its facility in Columbus, Ohio, to produce ready-to-feed liquid formula, which was not affected by the February recall. The company has also upped output at one of its facilities in Ireland to air-ship products to the United States.