The FDA “dropped the ball” on the country’s baby food crisis — closing a pivotal factory on top of product recalls and then failing to warn parents of the consequences, experts told The Post on Friday.
Desperate moms and dads have been scouring stores across the country for baby food since mega-maker Abbott issued a recall in February of products made at its Sturgis, Michigan facility over contamination concerns.
The Food and Drug Administration later closed the plant after federal inspectors found that Abbott was not maintaining sanitation conditions and procedures there, causing a cascade of crippling effects on the supply chain.
“Someone, whether it’s Abbott or the FDA, should have realized, ‘We’re shutting down production in one of the few factories that produce baby food and what are the consequences,'” said William Marler, a nutrition attorney. -safety cases, to The Post.
“That’s where the FDA and Abbott dropped the ball. … They could have recalled the product without closing the facility. They call back all the time without closing the facility.”
Manhattan mom Amy Daly, 38, of the Upper West Side complained Friday that she was forced to take her 11-month-old baby Alice off infant formula early when the shortage hit.
“People are desperate. … It’s a real crisis. Mothers are in need,” she said.
“The administration should have known the shortage was coming and do something to prevent it — or at least warn mothers more,” said Daly, standing in a playground about a block from a Duane Reade with his baby food shelves now completely bald.
On Friday, President Biden, who has been hammered by critics for his handling of the crisis, claimed that only “better mind readers” could have been more effective than his administration and the FDA in tackling the plight.
His light-hearted remark came the day after the White House announced it would finally clear the way for formula imports from abroad — several months after the factory shut down.
“Some products come from abroad, but the red tape in the US is preventing much-needed supplies,” Wall Street Journal opinion writer James Freeman said in a piece Friday.
“Every time this issue crops up in the news cycle, all of Team Biden and its allies on Capitol Hill are calling for more investigation into the case.
“Now the president wants the Federal Trade Commission to look for evidence of price gouging and House Democrats want testimonials from formula manufacturers. How about investigating the FDA and allowing people to bottle feed hungry newborns?”
Peter Pitts — a former associate commissioner at the FDA and current head of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest — told The Post that the agency “knew a shortage was going to happen.
“They should have educated parents, warned them in advance and let them know how to prepare,” he said. “As a result, one day parents go to the store and the shelves are empty – and they panic.
“The White House isn’t dealing with it,” Pitts added bluntly.
Outgoing White House press secretary Jen Psaki was no more helpful than her boss when asked Friday how long the shortages were expected to be an issue.
“Really important question, but hard for us to make a review,” she said.
She even claimed at a briefing Thursday that the FDA had been taking the right steps all along because “there were babies who died from taking this formula.”
Abbott has strongly denied that any of his plant’s products killed babies, much less made them sick.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf claimed in a tweet Friday that the government’s efforts to help other companies ramp up production and increase imports from abroad should reduce the deficit within “a matter of weeks.”
But the head of the Perrigo Company, which makes Walmart’s and Amazon’s baby formulas, told Reuters on Friday that he expects the deficit to hold its “balance for the year.”
Abbott insisted that it could restart production at its closed facility “within two weeks” of the FDA’s approval to restart operations.
Since the closure, Abbott said it has shipped millions of cans to the US from its FDA-registered plant in Ireland and has prioritized infant formula production at its Columbus, Ohio plant.
Several industry experts said the formula disaster could have been avoided if the government had had clear leadership and a “dedicated food agency”.
“The whole situation could have been done with a sense of urgency when you consider the population ingesting this product,” said Mitzi Baum, chief executive of the nonprofit STOP Food Borne Illness.
Baum added that the delay is a reflection of “the dysfunction of the system,” which does not protect public health.
“Most of the FDA’s funding goes to drugs and devices, and the agency’s food portion is severely underfunded and lacks clear leadership,” Baum said.
Hal King, managing partner at Active Food Safety LLC, a food industry consultancy, added: “I don’t blame the FDA, I blame the government.
“We need a dedicated food agency,” King said.
“FDA’s communication with the public and the company’s communication with the public has been too slow to let people know that there was food in the system that is making people sick.
“It’s good to take things off the shelves, but that doesn’t tell people about products they might have around the house. That process has been interrupted.”