(CBS4) - Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette is leading a federal inquiry into the nation's baby formula shortage. DeGette is the Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. She is also a new grandmother who understands the sense of panic and urgency gripping parents.
"I just had my first little grandbaby a couple of months ago and luckily she's not on formula but, as anybody who's had a baby knows, that could change in a day or two," DeGette said.
DeGette has called a hearing for Wednesday morning where she plans to grill manufacturers and the FDA.
"We have to get answers right away. Basically, we're in an all-hands-on-deck situation," said DeGette.
She says it isn't enough for the federal government to ship in baby formula from overseas. Manufacturers, she says, need to step-up production here too.
"Not in 8 weeks. Not in 6 weeks, but right away," she said.
DeGette says the federal government is partly to blame for the shortage after giving one company, Abbott, the sole contract for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) the federal program that subsidizes formula for about a million low-income moms. That concentrated 45% of the market in one company, which shut down its main plant after the F-D-A found the same bacteria there that killed two babies and sickened two others.
"We have to look at what we can do so that we are diversifying the number of formula manufactures so that a shut-down at one plant doesn't disrupt the whole national formula supply," says DeGette.
She will also look at why it took the FDA months after the first report of problems at the plant to take action.
"Clearly they need more effort and maybe more resources towards investigators in the food realm," she said.
Abbott's CEO issued an apology in an op-ed this week. DeGette says that's not enough.
"I'm glad they're apologizing and I'm sure they're sorry their plant closed down. It's been very bad press for a very established company, but it's not much solace for my constituents who are driving around 3-4 hours to try to find formula for their babies," said DeGette.
Abbott will reopen its plant next week but it says it will be 6-8 weeks before it's at full production. DeGette says parents shouldn't have to wait another two months.
"They need to give us a plan to try to ramp up their other facilities as quickly as possible to get the formula out and they have to give us assurance that they're putting protocols in place that are going to stop this from happening in future. It's not like they're manufacturing potato chips or something. They're manufacturing infant formula which is the only source of nutrition for most of these babies who are taking it," she said.
DeGette also urged parents not to stockpile in the meantime.
"We will be getting supplies out so I think people should really resist the temptation. You're taking that formula away from another baby that will need it," said DeGette.
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