The White House announced Wednesday night that President Joe Biden will invoke the Defense Production Act to address the national baby formula shortage.
The Biden administration is also launching Operation Fly Formula to accelerate the importation of infant formula.
“Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains,” the White House said of Biden’s DPA move.
“To speed up the import of infant formula and get more formula to stores as soon as possible, President Biden has directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use Department of Defense (DOD) commercial aircraft to pick up overseas infant formula that meets U.S. health and safety standards, so it can get to store shelves faster,” the statement said of Operation Fly Formula.
Biden had told reporters earlier this week that the administration was considering these moves.
A major cause of the shortage is the February recall of powdered formulas manufactured at Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan, where operations have been paused. The Food and Drug Administration issued the recall after receiving complaints of infections due to Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria in four babies from September 2021 to January 2022. Abbott, one of the largest producers of baby formula, has said it is “working closely with the FDA to implement corrective actions.”
“This shutdown was needed to ensure the highest safety standards were being met but resulted in a decline in production of formula that American families rely on,” Biden wrote in a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack released by the White House on Wednesday night. “Your departments have worked closely with manufacturers to help them increase formula production and availability, which resulted in more formula produced in April than before the recall.”
Manufacturers were also unprepared for an uptick in demand during the pandemic, which additionally strained supply chains. Worker absenteeism because of sickness or exposure to COVID-19 at production facilities and within the transportation sector slowed production and distribution of formula as it has done with so many other goods. The pandemic also strained supplies of ingredients needed to make the formula.
The DPA is a federal law that allows the president to order private businesses to prioritize contracts for materials seen as essential for national defense. It has recently been used to ramp up vaccine production.
The FDA has also been working to address the formula crisis.
“We recognize that many consumers have been unable to access infant formula and critical medical foods they are accustomed to using and are frustrated by their inability to do so,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said. “We are doing everything in our power to ensure there is adequate product available where and when they need it.”
Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters that the FDA is “working around the clock” to address the shortage.
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The shortage of baby formula has joined inflation, broader supply chain snags, and stock market uncertainty as issues undermining confidence in Biden’s economic stewardship and upsetting parents during a midterm election year.