The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognised multiple errors in its handling of the infant formula shortfall earlier this year in a report released on Tuesday.
“If you don’t have some grasp of how all the pieces work together for things that are vital to the public health, then when you get into a crisis or a shortage you have a big problem,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told the Associated Press. “That’s mostly what occurred here,” she said.
The audit noted a number of issues, including out-of-date data-sharing systems and inadequate staffing and training for food inspectors. The government also lacked adequate knowledge of infant formula’s manufacturing processes and supply linkages.
Eight months after Abbott’s infant formula plant in Michigan was shut down by the EPA due to safety issues and child illness reports, a 10-page report has been released. A senior official who oversaw the review spoke with about 60 agency staff members.
Despite an attempt by a whistleblower to alert the FDA about issues in September 2021, the organisation didn’t begin an investigation until the following February.
Four infants were sick and two were already dead at that time. According to the AP, the FDA is still looking into if there is a link between those infants and the formula.
As the head of the Center for Veterinary Medicine and the person in charge of the review, Dr. Steven Solomon told the AP, “Whistleblower allegations come into the agency in many different ways, from many different sources. Making ensuring that they are prioritised and escalated to the appropriate leadership levels, regardless of how they enter the agency, is one of the initiatives we’ve already taken.
According to evidence provided to Congress by the FDA, mail delays were one of the reasons the agency didn’t find out about the complaint sooner. Another was the failure to take the whistleblower accusations more seriously.
According to the report, delays were probably caused by “inadequate protocols and lack of clarity relating to whistleblower complaint” at the FDA.
The FDA struggled with its testing capacity for the rare but potentially fatal cronobacter bacterium that was related to the infant formula epidemic. Shipping challenges reported by “third party delivery providers” further contributed to testing delays.
The report stated that the pandemic led to further problems, including the agency missing inspections after pulling inspectors from the field and COVID instances among agency workers.
In order to oblige businesses to give samples and data regarding manufacturing supply chains, quality, and safety, the FDA intends to apply for new legal authorities.
Additionally, funding from Congress was requested in the study to raise the standards and inspections for infant formula. This would improve technology for sharing information on FDA inspections, consumer complaints, and test results, as well as increase financing and recruiting authority for additional experts in the FDA’s food division.
However, the Environmental Working Group’s Scott Faber said in a statement that the study doesn’t go far enough.
“This internal assessment tackles the disease’s symptoms rather than providing a cure,” Faber stated. Nothing in this study takes into account the disjointed leadership structure that caused serious communication breakdowns.
Due to severe shortages of formula caused by issues at the Abbott plant in February, the United States had to airlift around 80 million bottles of formula from other nations.
More information on cronobacter can be found at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Associated Press is the source.