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The baby formula shortage in the United States has been severe for some time, with stores now missing 40 percent of their usual supplies. There have been stories of parents driving hours to find what they need, or in some cases, watering down formula. NewsHour's Ali Rogin, who has been reporting on this issue, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.
And let's dive into some of the complexities of this shortage of baby formula, including what it will take to alleviate it more quickly and to fix bigger problems over time.
Our Ali Rogin been reporting on this. And she joins me now.
Ali, you have been looking at this for quite some time. And you're reminding us that there's a bigger context here. So remind us about the.
That's exactly right.
Across the industry, people have been telling me today that the measures the White House introduced, they can't hurt, but they're not really things that are going to address the core issues here. A lot of these companies, they haven't had issues obtaining those raw materials that Brian Deese was talking about, materials and ingredients.
And, as he said, it's a proactive measure. It's meant to ensure that companies that have ramped up production can sustain those levels of production without any interruption. The same can be said for these flights that the White House has introduced.
Industry representatives say that this isn't a chief driver of the crisis. But, again, it can't hurt. For example, a spokesman for Abbott Labs today tells me that they have already had emergency airlifts of their product from an FDA-approved facility in Ireland. But they say that, of course, they welcome any measures that might be able to cut down on transfer time.
Now, we know that this issue, Ali, has been getting a lot more attention from lawmakers. They have been pressuring the White House, urging the White House to do more.
The FDA commissioner today testified on the Hill. Tell us about that.
What Brian Deese did not refer to, which is important to point out, is that the FDA is under a lot of scrutiny for its timeline, how quickly it acted. There was a whistle-blower report that came out in October of 2021. The FDA did not interview that whistle-blower until December, and then they did not do an inspection of that Sturgis, Michigan, facility, that was the nature of the whistle-blower complaint until January.
So there are a lot of questions about that timeline. Commissioner Califf was before the House Appropriations Committee today. He demurred on a lot of those specifics, citing an ongoing investigation, but that didn't really satisfy a lot of lawmakers, including Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT):
You can't hide behind investigation. We need answers. We need them now.
Robert Califf, Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration: I know we have an oversight hearing next week. And we will be prepared to go into much more detail at that point.
As I have said, we could do better than we did. And…
Rep. Rosa DeLauro:
You have an oversight committee next week. You're on before the committee that funds what you do.
So, these — this information is relevant to this Subcommittee of Appropriations.
Well, I appreciate what you're saying, but it's — the investigation is not completed yet. And so I'm not in a position to answer specifics like that.
So, Ali, what are seen to be then — beyond what the administration is doing, what are seen to be the chief solutions here?
To the immediate crisis, it's all about getting formula back on the shelves. And the FDA announced earlier this week that it is working with Abbott Labs to reopen that closed facility in Sturgis, Michigan. The reopening process is going to take about two weeks, and then it might be an additional six to eight weeks before we see any of that product back on shelves.
But all of this reveals a paradox, which is that the two entities most responsible for this crisis are also the ones with the most tools available to help get us out of it. The House earlier this week voted to approve an additional $28 million in emergency funding for the FDA to beef up their food safety program.
And the FDA is also surging resources to Abbott to help it reopen this facility. As Brian Deese noted, Abbott and three other companies make up 90 percent of the American market share. And as this crisis has revealed, these companies are too big to fail.
And you were telling us, Ali, there are also seem to be longer-term solutions that need to be addressed, that need to be looked at.
Yes, this is really forcing an industry-wide reckoning.
Brian Deese talked about increasing competitions. And legislatures this week — legislators also addressed a very important part of this, which is federal funding for low-income infant nutrition, which actually covers about 50 percent of all American infants. It's a program known as WIC.
State WIC programs actually went really quickly in expanding access for WIC beneficiaries state by state. But that's because they had existing flexibilities because of the COVID-19 national health security crisis.
And so lawmakers today, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to make those WIC flexibilities permanent. The House passed it earlier this week with nine no-votes. It now heads to the president's desk.
Of course, the scrutiny of the FDA is also going to continue. Commissioner Califf, as well as executives from three of those four formula companies back on the Hill next week. Judy, they're going to be testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next Wednesday.
We're learning so much about this industry, which I think most of us knew very little about.
Ali Rogin, thank you very much.
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