Update to Oligopoly In Baby Formula Production Leads To Shortages, Republicans Want To Starve Babies In Immigrant Detention.

This point cannot be emphaisized enough: Republicans have NO PLAN to address the baby formula shortage caused by the oligopoly in baby formula production. They’ve got nothing! Zero, zilch, zip, nada – nothing!

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The Republican Party is a post-policy, post-truth propaganda machine that only wants to politicize this baby formula shortage, folding it into their 2022 midterm campaign strategy of anti-immigrant hysteria “white fright.”

That’s right, these fascist propagandists want you to believe that somehow starving a small number of immigrant babies in U.S. custody will somehow free up enough baby formula for all those white babies they need for their white Christian Nationalist dystopian future of the U.S.

The only responsible governing party in America, the Democratic Party, does still do public policy and they actually do have a plan to address the current baby formula shortage caused by the oligopoly in baby formula manufacturers.

The Washington Post reports, FDA comes to agreement with baby formula factory to resume production:

Abbott Nutrition, the maker of Similac and other popular baby formulas, said Monday it has come to an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to fix safety issues at a Sturgis, Mich., factory that has been shuttered for more than three months, contributing to a nationwide formula shortage.

The agreement represents a first step toward resolving a problem that has sent parents scrambling from store to store to find sustenance for their infants. But questions remain about what precisely the FDA will require of Abbott and the Sturgis facility operations before reopening is approved.

The company has previously said that once the FDA has signed off on the fixes, it will take two weeks to restart production and another six to eight weeks to get the product back on shelves.

FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf said on the “Today” show on Monday that he felt “very comfortable” that the Sturgis plant would reopen in two weeks and that the shortage would be resolved by the end of the year.

“Today’s action means that Abbott Nutrition has agreed to address certain issues that the agency identified at their infant formula production facility in Michigan. The public should rest assured that the agency will do everything possible to continue ensuring that infant and other specialty formulas produced by the company meet the FDA’s safety and quality standards,” Califf said in a statement late Monday.

“This is a major step toward re-opening our Sturgis facility so we can ease the nationwide formula shortage,” said Robert Ford, chairman and chief executive of Abbott, who noted that the shortage was also exacerbated by a voluntary recall by the company of formula that had been possibly tainted by a bacteria that sickened two babies and killed two others. The FDA has not proven that the Sturgis plant was the source of the contamination, the company has said.

“We know millions of parents and caregivers depend on us and we’re deeply sorry that our voluntary recall worsened the nationwide formula shortage. We will work hard to re-earn the trust that moms, dads and caregivers have placed in our formulas for more than 50 years,” Ford added.

According to the FDA statement, a proposed consent decree between the FDA and Abbott Nutrition and three of its top executives was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The proposed consent decree must be approved by the court. “Abbott Nutrition will be required to retain an independent expert to review the Sturgis facility’s operations to ensure compliance with the law,” the statement said.

The consent decree “allows the company to get back in operation. Given what has happened so far, the FDA is going to scrutinize everything Abbott does. There will be inspectors there. They will want to see batches to determine that problems will not recur,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

And on Friday, the White House announced the possibility of invoking the Defense Production Act to produce baby formula amid the shortage. But supercharging production of formula is no easy feat.

The AP adds Biden Offers Logistics Support To Ease Baby Formula Shortage:

President Joe Biden is offering formula manufacturers and retailers transportation and logistics support to ease the nationwide shortage of baby formula, as the administration works to bring the largest domestic plant back on line after it was shut down early this year due to safety issues.

The White House said it is working with all major formula producers to boost production, including reaching out to their suppliers to encourage them to prioritize production and delivery of formula ingredients.

The AP further adds, US allows more baby formula imports to fight shortage:

President Joe Biden’s administration announced steps Monday to ease a nationwide shortage of baby formula, including reopening the largest domestic manufacturing plant and increasing imports from overseas.

The Food and Drug Administration said it was streamlining its review process to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to begin shipping more formula into the U.S.

“The FDA expects that the measures and steps it’s taking with infant formula manufacturers and others will mean more and more supply is on the way or on store shelves moving forward,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told reporters.

Califf said the U.S. will prioritize companies that can provide the largest shipments and quickly show documentation that their formulas are safe and compatible with U.S. nutrition standards. The policy is structured as a temporary measure lasting six months.

The imports announcement came shortly after regulators said they’d reached a deal to allow Abbott Nutrition to restart its Sturgis, Michigan-based plant, which has been closed since February due to contamination issues. The company must overhaul its safety protocols and procedures before resuming production.

Neither step is expected to have an immediate effect on tight supplies that have left many parents searching for formula online or in food banks.

Getting imports into the U.S. supply chain will also take several weeks, according to administration officials. Products from Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. are expected to meet the standards needed for importation.

[T]raditionally, 98% of the infant formula supply in the U.S. is made domestically. Companies seeking to enter the U.S. face several major hurdles, including rigorous research and manufacturing standards imposed by the FDA.

But regulators said national industry data shows most U.S. stores, on average, still have 80% of their formula inventory in stock. They suggested some of the empty shelves seen in recent days may be due to panic buying by parents.

The New York Times reports, House Democrats Release $28 Million Aid Bill to Address Formula Shortage:

House Democrats on Tuesday proposed an emergency funding bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration $28 million to address a nationwide infant formula shortage.

The three-page measure is intended to provide the agency with the funds to increase staff in charge of inspecting formula before it is sent to grocery shelves, as well as money to prepare for future shortages, according to a summary. Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, called the legislation “the first step to help restock shelves and end this shortage.”

The legislation is expected to reach the House floor this week, as lawmakers scramble to respond to the pleas and frustrations of desperate families that have toiled to feed their children amid the shortage.

Wait for it …

Republicans quickly said they would oppose the measure, criticizing it as ineffective and noting that it contained no instructions on how to spend the money.

OMG! We’re spending money on the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program for poor women, and on government safety oversight of baby formula production by the FDA. We can’t have that! Leave the oligopoly alone!”

Democratic leaders are also weighing legislation that would loosen the restrictions on the types of formula that can be purchased with benefits under the federal food assistance program for women and children, which accounts for about half the infant formula sold in the United States.

Granting emergency authority to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, would expand the types of formula recipients could purchase.

“Babies are crying — we need to get them food,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” She added, “We must do something as quickly as possible, but as safely as possible, and use caution, for these babies.”

The Huffington Post adds that boss Nancy Pelosi Suggests Criminal Penalties For Baby Formula Shortage:

Senior Democrats suggested Tuesday that a baby formula manufacturer could be criminally liable for unsanitary conditions that led to one of its factories being shut down earlier this year.

“I think there might be a need for indictment,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters at a news conference.

Abbott Nutrition paused production at its formula factory in Sturgis, Michigan, in February after an inspection by the Food and Drug Administration found dangerous bacteria and shabby conditions in production areas.

The shutdown greatly exacerbated a formula shortage that has become a major political issue and a crisis for some families. Out-of-stock rates for formula products rose to 43% in early May, according to Datasembly, a retail data firm.

Democrats are speeding two bills to the House floor this week in response to the shortage. But the bills wouldn’t have an immediate impact on store shelves, even if the legislation quickly became law.

Democrats also announced they would bring formula maker executives to Capitol Hill for hearings this month.

[C]ompanies and individuals can be held criminally accountable, with fines and jail time, for violations of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which the FDA enforces.

Members of Congress have also questioned the FDA’s slow response to the Cronobacter infections. The agency knew of a possible foodborne illness connected to Abbott’s formula in September, but it didn’t start followup inspections until January and didn’t warn consumers until February.

“We are going to investigate Abbott and the chips should fall where they may,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said Tuesday. “People have to be accountable, whether it is an FDA or whether it is at Abbott.”

As for Democrats’ legislation, one measure would boost funding for the FDA by $28 million. DeLauro said the agency could use the money to hire more inspection staff, which would bring more firms into the heavily regulated baby formula market.

“FDA does not have the adequate inspection force to be able to do that and to do it in a timely way,” DeLauro said. “I was told that they have only nine people to do this.”

The other piece of legislation would essentially codify steps that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has already taken to make sure that people enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants and Children can use their benefits to buy more than one brand of formula. The benefits work like regular nutrition assistance, but with strict limitations on what foods are eligible for purchase.

Formula makers bid for state contracts that allow them to be the sole provider of formula to WIC recipients in a given state in exchange for a discount. Using pandemic waiver authority, the USDA has already given states leeway to let WIC recipients use their benefits for noncontract formulas. Abbott, the sole formula provider for WIC recipients in 23 states, has also said it would pay rebates for purchases of other formula brands through August.

The WIC flexibility doesn’t increase the supply of formula, but it makes life easier for low-income households. As many as 45% of all newborns in the U.S. benefit from WIC.

“To the extent that there is formula available, USDA’s waivers allow states to let WIC participants obtain whatever brand or type of formula is on store shelves, without the usual medical documentation,” Zoë Neuberger, a senior policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told HuffPost. “This puts WIC participants on more equal footing with other families. But it doesn’t address getting more formula on the shelves.”

In an op-ed, Suraj Patel writes at the New York Times, These Two Immediate Steps Will Help Alleviate the Formula Shortage (excerpt):

First, President Biden should seek to suspend tariffs for baby formula and streamline approvals for quality imports to immediately ease the shortage. But new imports alone are not a panacea, because many infants can tolerate only specific types of formula.

The president should also invoke the Defense Production Act — a move under consideration by the administration — to ensure that more formula is produced by private industry.

The act gives the president the authority to ensure that the private sector can respond to emergencies, including the ability to compel companies to put a government order at the front of the line. It does not mean that the government would make baby formula but rather that the government could guarantee that contracted companies will be paid and make sure these orders are a priority.

It does this by issuing what are called rated orders, which would include the authority to prioritize raw materials for baby formula production away from other foods in the near term.

This would correct a market failure: The U.S. baby formula industry is dominated by four companies, and they are not required to ramp up production for a temporary shortage.

The Biden administation is already working on this (see above).

Addressing the broader problem of oligopoly market concentration and anti-competitive practices, and a captive agency in the FDA, Patel writes:

This crisis is also the latest example of why the more than century-old Food and Drug Administration needs reform and streamlining to separate its functions of drug approval and food safety into specialized agencies — which is the case in other advanced countries and the European Union, which has a distinct food safety agency and a medicines agency — so it can more effectively investigate failures of food supply while being able to hasten the approval process for medicines. And Congress needs to exercise its constitutional role to provide adequate oversight of the agency.

In the long term, Congress and the executive branch must bring more urgency and adopt a holistic competition policy for our economy. Decades of lax antitrust enforcement have led to the highest levels of market concentration in decades across the U.S. economy. Too many supply chains are vulnerable because our economy is built on efficiency rather than resilience.

There have been several efforts by members of both parties in Congress on competition policy. Among the antitrust bills, two promising approaches include the Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Act, introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, which would make sweeping changes at the federal level to, among other things, enforcement resources, and the State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act of 2021, introduced by Senators Klobuchar and Mike Lee, Republican of Utah (and in the House by Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado), which would focus on state antitrust efforts.

If you believe that Republicans are serious about breaking up monopolistic corporations with new, stronger anti-trust legislation, raise your hand. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Get real.

If you want “trust busting” you have to elect more Democrats to Congress to get the job done. Republicans are the lickspittle lackeys of Wall Street, oligarchs and plutocrats.




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