Sens. Patty Murray and Bob Casey released a letter Friday demanding answers after three popular brands of powdered baby formula were recalled. In the letter to Abbott CEO Robert B. Ford, first shared with The 19th, the Democratic senators ask for “all internal documents and communications” pertaining to contamination, consumer complaints and use of outside consultants at the Michigan plant that produced the formula, which has sickened four babies in three different states.
Last week, due to bacterial contamination, the FDA recalled select lots of the powdered baby formulas Similac, Alimentum and EleCare, including specialized formulas for those with allergies and food intolerances. The shortage caused by the recall has left many parents scrambling to feed their children. The senators have asked for “assurances that [Abbott] is taking every effort to … ensure parents and caregivers have the information they need.”
Murray and Casey set a March 10 deadline for Abbott to respond. A Senate aide told The 19th that Abbott has acknowledged receipt.
In a written statement, Casey, of Pennsylvania, told The 19th, “No parent should have to worry that the formula they feed to their infant or child may be contaminated. Chair Murray and I are pressing Abbott for answers because parents, caregivers and babies deserve better.”
Even before the recall, there was already a shortage of baby formula. Sadaf Dreitlein’s 9-month-old son, Isayah, was born prematurely. He also had “a lot of trouble growing” when he was born, she said.
Dreitlein started out breastfeeding but switched to a hypoallergenic formula at the suggestion of her doctor. To encourage his growth, Isayah’s formula is fortified, meaning his parents give him more formula per bottle than normal. So in addition to needing specialized formula, Isayah goes through it faster than most other babies.
Isayah has thrived on formula and is starting to gain weight. “He’s doing so much better now. He’s a happy baby and reaching all of his milestones. He’s just a small baby,” she told The 19th.
Dreitlein and her family have been struggling since January, when the shortage began. At the time, the New York Times reported that the shortage was “likely driven by a combination of supply chain issues.” Isayah’s formula became impossible to find online. Then, Dreitlein started looking in stores around Alexandria, Virginia, where she lives.
“For a good couple weeks, we were freaking out a bit because we could not find [formula]. And when we did find it in stores, it was literally double the price. All of a sudden I went from spending about $50 a week on formula to $100 to $150 a week,” she said.
Nutramigen, the formula she uses, has not been recalled, but Alimentum, another hypoallergenic formula, has. People who rely on Alimentum have been seeking alternatives, further increasing demand on an already deficient supply.
While Dreitlein describes her family as “middle class,” the increased cost has not been easy. “I feel backed up into a corner to having to pay this, because I need to, because it’s the only thing my son can drink,” Dreitlein said.
The effects of the shortage extend beyond babies and new parents. Some older children and adults with disabilities rely on the same specialized, hypoallergenic formulas. This is the case for Freida Atkins of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. Atkins is 15 years old and has autonomic dysfunction. She primarily uses a feeding tube to eat while she sleeps.
“We got our monthly delivery, and every single can was impacted [by the recall],” Freida’s mother, Sara Atkins, told The 19th.
“[My parents] told me about the recall, but I didn’t know what that meant. When they told me what that meant, I felt worried,” Freida said.
Last Thursday, the Atkins family briefly ran out of formula. Freida wasn’t able to eat that night. They managed to acquire four cans the next day, but “we’re down to one can now,” Sara told The 19th. A can typically lasts three days.
Many parents feel that they have been left in the dark about the recall. At first, Dreitlien hadn’t been aware of it. She thought, perhaps, she was having difficulty finding Isayah’s formula due to supply chain issues. She only found out later that a recall had occurred.
Sara says her daughter’s home-care provider also didn’t know about the recall and shortage initially, either. “They only found out because parents started calling them. Why weren’t they informed?” she asked. She also expressed concern about what comes next. “We need a long-term plan. We can’t just keep going week to week.”