President Joe Biden has met with baby formula manufacturers and retailers as he seeks to address a nationwide shortage prompted by a product recall and exacerbated by the pandemic.
Biden spoke with representatives of Walmart and Target, as well as Reckitt and Gerber, as he and his aides grapple with the shortage, announcing proposals Thursday they say will help ease supply chain problems.
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Senior administration officials described the measures as "cutting red tape" in order to restock shelves with baby formula, including calling on the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to clamp down on price gouging and unfair market practices. Another avenue is through the Department of Agriculture's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, with about half of the country's formula bought with WIC benefits, according to the officials.
"There are, in normal times, significant rules about what products families can purchase, and there are also rules about how suppliers that participate in the WIC program have to maintain stock of particular supplies in order to participate in WIC," one official said. "So USDA has been working since February with states to relax those rules and make it easier for families to substitute products and for suppliers and retailers to more flexibly participate in the WIC program."
Incoming White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters this week that the Food and Drug Administration was working with industry partners to increase production and discourage hoarding, in addition to expediting FDA review processes and seizing importation opportunities from countries such as Chile, Ireland, Mexico, and the Netherlands.
"We will certainly be in touch as we have additional details to announce there," an official added Thursday.
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Abbott Nutrition voluntarily recalled several of its powdered formulas in February after contamination concerns at its Sturgis, Michigan, plant. Beforehand, four infants had become ill and another two died from Cronobacter sakazakii. The Sturgis facility produces 20 specialty formulas for about 5,000 infants and some older children and adults with rare metabolic diseases.