Democratic lawmakers see a bigger problem in the context of the worrying shortage of infant formula across the country: the growing consolidation of corporate power through mergers and acquisitions that has led to rising income inequality.
“The shortage was largely caused by greed and corporate consolidation. There are only four infant formula manufacturers in the United States,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) noted Tuesday.
DeLauro introduced legislation this week that would increase funding for the Food and Drug Administration as part of an effort to attract more companies to the heavily regulated infant formula market.
Abbott, Reckitt Benckiser, Nestlé and Perrigo account for nearly all infant formula sales in the United States. Abbott halted production and recalled several brands of infant formula earlier this year, leading to widespread shortages and panic among distraught parents across the country. The crisis has been felt most harshly by low-income parents who rely on programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC.
In addition to calling for investigations into Abbott and even suggesting that the company be held criminally responsible for the unsanitary conditions that led to the closure of one of its factories, Democrats, in particular, focus on the effects harmful economics of monopolies in America.
Last week, eight Senate Democrats wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to do more to fight consolidation within the infant formula industry. On Wednesday, two other Democrats sent a letter to Abbott’s CEO that underscored the point and asked for more information about the company’s stock buybacks and executive compensation in recent years.
“This concentration of companies, combined with decades of inactivity from regulators, has allowed your company to make do with sub-par security protocols, knowing that consumers did not have the option to easily switch to a competitor,” said Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Cory. Booker (NJ) concluded in the letter.
Four cases of dangerous bacterial infection in infants were linked to infant formula produced by a factory owned by Abbott. Two of the cases were fatal; the company said there was “no evidence” that its product was to blame, even though the FDA found unsanitary conditions at the plant.
Few, if any, of these calls from lawmakers will result in an immediate solution to the crisis. Legislation advanced this week would also have no immediate impact on store shelves, even if it were to become law quickly. But Democrats plan to keep the issue front and center ahead of the midterm elections, pledging to bring formula makers executives to Capitol Hill for hearings this month.
On Monday, Abbott said it reached an agreement with regulators to restart production at its largest national plant, although it will still be more than a month before new products are shipped from the site to help ease the shortage. national.
Arthur Delaney contributed reporting.
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