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Despite Congress' efforts, it'll take time to refill the baby bottles

Ariel Cohen, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are throwing nearly every tool in their arsenal, including a proposed $28 million in taxpayer dollars, at the baby formula shortage. But it isn’t clear how quickly those solutions will result in cans on grocery store shelves.

The shortage is dire — right now, roughly 40 percent of infant formula is missing from shelves in the United States. And while new actions announced by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday night will help stem the shortage, it may take up to two months to see a difference.

On Tuesday, House appropriators led by Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., introduced a $28 million emergency supplemental bill to help the FDA address the infant formula shortage and prevent future shortages. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said the House would debate the rule for the baby formula supplemental Wednesday and debate and vote on it Thursday.

Asked how quickly DeLauro’s legislation would help get formula back on shelves, both DeLauro and Speaker Nancy Pelosi were short on answers. Instead, DeLauro pressured her Senate colleagues to pass the bill.

“This is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is about the risk in the life of babies in this country,” DeLauro said.

The spending bill includes provisions to make it easier for the FDA to prevent fraudulent formula from hitting the shelves in American stores, help the agency get more data on the baby formula marketplace and increase FDA inspection staff for baby formula.

 

DeLauro told reporters that she plans to soon introduce another bill that provides more authority to the FDA to increase supply, and that she and her colleagues are looking at opportunities to use the Defense Production Act to increase supply.

The emergency supplemental bill was announced the day after the FDA announced new trade standards to help ease the importation of baby formula from other countries. The agency on Monday also announced a deal with Abbott Nutrition to reopen its shuttered Michigan plant.

These two actions are expected to increase baby formula supply in the coming months but do little to answer questions about what parents should do in the near term. Once the FDA gives the Abbott plant the green light to reopen, it will take two weeks to get production going, then another six to eight weeks to get product to shelves.

Asked what parents should do in the interim, the White House dismissed reports that parents cannot access baby formula and said more formula is now coming off production lines than prior to the Abbott recall.

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