On Thursday, May 19th, 2022, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee held its hearing, “Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the Food and Drug Administration,” with FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf.
Although the hearing was intended to focus on the budget, the biggest topic of conversation was the baby formula shortage. Both the Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, Jr. (D-GA) and Acting Ranking Member Dr. Andy Harris (R-MD) mentioned the formula shortage during their opening remarks, and Commissioner Califf dedicated a significant portion of his opening testimony to discussing the steps being taken by the White House and the FDA to address this crisis situation.
Many of the subcommittee members asked difficult questions of the Commissioner on this topic. Representative Valadao (R-CA) asked if the FDA understood the gravity of closing a major plant and the impact the closure would have. Representative Underwood (D-IL), who has a background in nursing, asked about communication with healthcare providers regarding Abbott products being made available on a case-by-case basis. Representative Letlow (R- LA) brought up issues of distribution in rural communities. Memorably, Representative Moolenaar (R-MI) used his time to read stories that his constituents have shared, highlighting the stress and fear that parents are feeling.
It was Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) who was most direct and firm with Commissioner Califf. In her opening remarks, she noted that she has been working on this issue since February, when the Abbott facility was first shut down. She asked the Commissioner then and during her allotted time for questions why it took the FDA nearly four months to act on the whistleblower report, which was received in October; she called this time lapse a dereliction of duty of the part of the FDA.
Commissioner Califf evaded many questions and promised to follow up with Representatives with more specifics, but he did say that the supply of infant formula should begin to improve in the coming days, with the President invoking the Defense Production Act and other measures being taken by the White House.