The Food and Drug Administration is once again the target of public ire over its seemingly glacial response to a U.S. consumer crisis. A recent story posted to Politico indicates that parents and their congressional representatives have begun raising serious questions about the amount of time that elapsed between the discovery of the first illness allegedly associated with infant formula contamination and the government’s response to it.
The agency has, thus far, refused to answer any of those questions. That refusal, when paired with the timeline of how this crisis unfolded, isn’t doing the FDA any favors.
According to Politico’s reporting, notification of the first illness associated with contaminated formula was received by the FDA, the CDC, and the formula’s manufacturer in September of last year. The contaminant was a very rare bacteria known as Cronobacter sakazakii. Four months elapsed between receipt of those reports and the first dispatch of an agency inspector to the Sturgis, Michigan Abbott Nutrition manufacturing plant where the contamination originated. That inspection didn’t yield a recall until another three weeks had gone by.
The fact that nearly five months elapsed from first discovery to any sort of government action during a food-borne contamination event is completely unacceptable. And in the face of such a failure, the FDA’s push to withhold information from a public that is demanding answers only serves to make the situation even more detestable. Citing current world events, the director of food policy at Consumer Reports quipped that “it’s kind of alarming that we know more about Russian military tactics in Ukraine than we do about FDA’s actions regarding the Abbott facility.”
To date, five children have been sickened and two have died as a result of bacterial contamination of infant formula produced under the Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare brands by the Sturgis, Michigan Abbott Nutrition facility.