“Sounds like they haven’t clue as to what’s going on,” Sen said. Richard Burr (NC), the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that oversees the FDA. “Go to Costco, go to Wal-Mart. Look at the shelves, ”Burr added, referencing continued shortages at some of the country’s largest retailers.
The FDA’s Office of Food Policy and Response, one of the teams responding to the formula shortages, stipulates in the online notice of the contract that Nielsen’s retail tracking data will help the FDA “monitor and analyze the status of infant formula supply chain impacts and respond to White House requests on the outbreak. ”
An FDA spokesperson confirmed the exclusive Nielsen contract to POLITICO.
The FDA started receiving the data this week, according to the same two people familiar with the discussions and contract.
Up until now, administration officials have been piecing together data about infant formula retail stocks from the federal government, formula companies, retailers and private market research firms as they’ve struggled to respond to the situation.
The FDA will “continue to utilize other sources of aggregated sales data, such as IRI and Datasembly, in its analysis and monitoring of trends in the infant formula supply,” said the spokesperson, referencing the two private data research companies the White House has relied on . IRI frequently shows higher in-stock rates than other data sources.
The White House has continued to tout the IRI data, saying it took action to authorize import restriction rollbacks and infant formula flights from abroad after the company’s tracking found national in-stock rates ticked down to 80 percent during the month of April. But national stock rates do not reflect variations in formula availability by region. The upper Midwest is experiencing the most severe current shortages, which have hit low-income and families of color especially hard.
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told lawmakers last week he still believes the US will soon have a “surplus” of infant formula production, despite ongoing challenges and the Abbott plant’s second shutdown.
Califf said the administration is now receiving production data from all the formula companies, which is helpful but still leaves White House and FDA officials guessing as to the full picture of how much formula is making it onto store shelves across the country.