On May 25, 2022, the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing, “The Infant Formula Crises,” listening to testimonies relating to the effect of the crisis.
Witnesses were Ms. Ginger Carney, the Director of Clinical Nutrition at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Ms. Sarah Chamberlin, the Executive Director of National PKU News, Mr. Michael Gay, the Owner and Manager of Food Fresh in Georgia, and Brian Ronholm, the Director of Food Policy at Consumer Reports. The witnesses provided perspectives of a dietician, a mother of a child with a rare disease, a grocery store owner/manager, and a food policy expert.
Ms. Chamberlain attested to the need for infant formula for not just infants, but also those with rare diseases, like her daughter, for whom the formula is life-sustaining. Without formula, some may experience comas, disabilities, and even death. Ms. Carney discussed the prevalence of the risk children and adults face from the lack of formula. From this event, we will see a generation undergoing the grave effects of inadequate medical nutrition.
The Infant Formula crisis has disproportionately affected low-income families, especially those a part of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This crisis highlights the need for changes within the WIC program as testified by Mr. Gay. As an owner of an independent grocery store in rural Georgia, he sees the WIC program not as a money maker, but as a vital community service. There are only 4 major formula companies that control 90% of the market and Abbott controls 55-65% of WIC contracts.
There are many changes as recommended by witnesses that will allow for this avoidable crisis to not happen again. Recommendations included but were not limited to:
- Altering WIC to allow formula substitutions
- A proposed Medical Nutrition Therapy Act to allow dieticians to provide specialized nutrition to families and patients in need of formula and increase access and collaboration with dieticians
- Address the Medical Nutrition Equity Act of 2021, H.R.3783 and S.2013 to ensure continual coverage of medically necessary vitamins, food, and individual amino acids for digestive and inherited metabolic disorders
- Information sharing between food agencies
- For Congress to appoint an empowered Deputy Commissioner Expert Leader of the FDA
- For formula companies to consistently share customer complaints and microbial test results with the FDA