Democrats criticize ‘corporate rally’ amid baby formula shortage

Democratic lawmakers see a bigger problem amid worrying baby formula shortages across the country: the growing consolidation of corporate power through mergers and acquisitions that has led to growing income inequality.

“The shortage was caused in large part by corporate greed and consolidation. There are only four manufacturers of infant formula in the United States,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said Tuesday.

DeLauro introduced legislation this week that would boost funding from the Food and Drug Administration as part of an effort aimed at attracting more companies to the heavily regulated baby formula market.

Abbott, Reckitt Benckiser, Nestle and Perrigo account for almost all infant formula sales in the US Abbott halted production and recalled several brands of formula earlier this year, leading to widespread shortages and panic among distraught parents. in all the country. The crisis has been felt most acutely by low-income parents who rely on programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.

In addition to calling for Abbott to be investigated and even suggesting that the company be held criminally liable for the unsanitary conditions that led to the closure of one of its factories, the Democrats, in particular, focus on the harmful economic effects of monopolies in the United States. .

Nine-month-old Olivia Wetzel enjoys a bottle of formula May 16 in Victor, Idaho. Olivia’s mother, Mollie Wetzel, obtained formula on a Facebook community page where a mother with extra formula offered what she no longer needed to anyone who needed it due to current shortages.

Natalie Behring via Getty Images

Last week, eight Senate Democrats wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging him to do more to address consolidation within the infant formula industry. On Wednesday, two more Democrats sent a letter to Abbott’s CEO that underscored the point and sought more information about the company’s share buybacks and executive compensation in recent years.

“This corporate concentration, combined with decades of inactivity by regulators, allowed her company to get by with poor security protocols, knowing that consumers did not have the option of easily switching to a competitor,” Senators Elizabeth Warren ( Massachusetts) and Cory Booker (NJ) concluded in the letter.

Four cases of a dangerous bacterial infection in babies were linked to formula produced by a plant owned by Abbott. Two of the cases were fatal; the company has said there is “no evidence” its product is to blame despite the FDA finding unsanitary conditions at the plant.

Few, if any, of these calls from lawmakers will result in an immediate solution to the crisis. The legislation that was introduced this week would also not have an immediate impact on store shelves, even if it were quickly signed into law. But Democrats plan to keep the issue front and center ahead of the midterm elections, pledging to bring formula-maker executives to Capitol Hill for hearings this month.

On Monday, Abbott said it reached a deal with regulators to restart production at its largest domestic factory, though it will still be more than a month before new products are shipped from the site to help ease a national shortage.

Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.

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