House Republicans are turning to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) response to the baby formula shortage as part of its oversight of the Biden administration.
Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Lisa McClain (R-Mich.), the chairwoman of the Health Care and Financial Services Subcommittee, sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Tuesday saying that the committee is continuing to investigate the FDA’s response to the shortage.
Comer and McClain requested a wide range of documents and communications to better understand the response.
The formula crisis began last spring when Abbott Nutrition recalled several of its major products after two infants died from a rare infection that they received from ingesting the company’s products. The recall exacerbated an already-existing shortage from supply chain issues that were prevalent during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Republicans have criticized the FDA and the Biden administration for not acting sooner to address the crisis.
While the FDA brought in millions of pounds of powdered formula from other countries to address the shortage, the agency did acknowledge their delay in responding to the crisis.
The two Republicans criticized the FDA’s commissioner for announcing that no one at the agency would be fired from their role over the response to the shortage. Frank Yiannas, who served as the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response, submitted his resignation from his position in January.
The FDA initiated an overhaul of its food safety and nutrition division in January following crises like the baby formula shortage. The agency has received criticism that its food safety program does not receive enough resources.
The restructuring will combine the food safety and nutrition divisions into a single human foods program led by a deputy commissioner. The agency said at the end of last month that it planned to finalize its proposal in the fall.
They requested that Califf provide more information — including all communications between or among the FDA, Department of Health and Human Services and White House staff referring to the shortage, all documents and communications relating to the planned reorganization and all documents and communications related to the decision to not reassign or fire anyone involved in handling the shortage.
Comer and McClain requested the information by April 4.
The health care and financial services subcommittee is also set to hold a hearing next Tuesday on the shortage, including a delayed response from the FDA to a whistleblower complaint about a bacteria outbreak at an Abbott baby formula plant in Michigan.
A former quality assurance manager issued the report months before the crisis, but Yiannas told The Washington Post in an interview in May that he did not see the whistleblower complaint until four months after it was sent.
The House has already conducted some investigations into the situation, with Califf himself testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee as the crisis became apparent in May.