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VERIFY: Is there a shortage of FDA staff who look at baby formula?

A viewer asked us if a shortage of FDA staff could be contributing to the baby formula shortage. We went straight to the FDA to get answers.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Parents across the U.S. are struggling to find baby formula due to a nationwide shortage

WCNC Charlotte has received many questions from VERIFY viewers about the shortage and solutions for parents. Some people are wondering if there is a shortage of inspectors at the Food and Drug Administration. 

Viewer Clifford J. sent an email saying, “With the current problem with no product on the shelves I was wondering if a shortage of FDA inspectors over the past 7 years has played a major part,” adding, “It would be interesting to know the number of inspectors on the job in January 2016 and the number of inspectors on the job in January 2021. Could this have contributed to the shortage?”

THE QUESTION

Is there a shortage of FDA staff who look at baby formula?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, there is not a shortage of FDA staff who look at baby formula.

WHAT WE FOUND

The baby formula shortage started earlier this year after Abbott Nutrition recalled some of its products. The FDA then began investigating complaints of bacterial infections in infants who consumed powdered formula produced in Abbott Nutrition’s facility in Sturgis, Michigan.

RELATED: 9 things parents need to know about the baby formula shortage and what to do if their brand is out of stock

The FDA says the recall created new concerns about the availability of certain types of formula, particularly given the already overall strains on the supply chain experienced since the start of the pandemic. The FDA believes panic buying also contributed to the shortage.

The Food Safety Modernization Act requires the FDA to inspect domestic food facilities at least once every three to five years, depending on risk. The FDA says because infant formula is the sole source of nutrition for some babies, they try to inspect these manufacturers annually instead.

Credit: WCNC
  • The FDA conducted inspections at the Abbott facility in Sturgis, Michigan in September 2021. 
  • The first illness from baby formula was reported on Sept. 6, 2021.
  • In October, FDA officials were alerted to potential problems at the plant when an Abbott whistleblower sent them a 34-page document, alleging "lax practices".
  • However, the FDA did not send a team to investigate until Jan. 31. 

So could this be because of a lack of staff?

The FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Nutrition currently has nine permanent full-time staff to review infant formula submissions. The submissions contain detailed information regarding safety, nutrient adequacy, labeling, and packaging requirements. A spokesperson says staff has always been maintained at around nine. That same spokesperson says the agency also uses expertise in other offices to review information in particular areas such as allergies and packaging materials. The FDA says it also supplements these resources with experts on contract to the FDA.

Contact Meghan Bragg at mbragg@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

VERIFY is dedicated to helping the public distinguish between true and false information. The VERIFY team, with help from questions submitted by the audience, tracks the spread of stories or claims that need clarification or correction. Have something you want VERIFIED? Text us at 704-329-3600 or visit VERIFY.

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