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Biden invokes Defense Production Act to address baby formula shortage

(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden is invoking the Defense Production Act to address the widespread shortage of baby formula, the White House announced Wednesday evening.

The move will get ingredients to manufacturers to help speed up production, the administration said.

“The President is requiring suppliers to direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good,” the White House said in a statement. “Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains.”

The president has also directed Department of Defense commercial aircraft to pick up infant formula overseas to get on U.S. shelves faster while U.S. manufacturers ramp up production, the White House said.

The ongoing baby formula crisis has triggered a public outcry from parents and lawmakers, as well as an investigation by the House Oversight Committee.

Biden called the formula shortage one of his “top priorities.”

“I know parents all across the country are worried about finding enough infant formula to feed their babies,” the president said in a video address announcing the administration’s latest steps. “As a parent and as a grandparent, I know just how stressful that is.”

Coronavirus-related supply chain issues helped fuel the shortage, which was worsened by a recall from Abbott Nutrition, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of baby formula products. The company closed its manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan, in February over concerns about bacterial contamination after four infants fell ill.

Abbott maintains there is still no conclusive evidence linking its formula to the four infant illnesses, which included two deaths.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration said it has agreed with Abbott on a plan to reopen its Sturgis plant. Abbott said it could restart operations there within two weeks, and that it would take six to eight weeks before the product is back on shelves.

The FDA also announced on Monday that it is easing import restrictions on foreign-made infant formula. The U.S. normally produces 98% of the infant formula it consumes, according to the FDA.

The Biden administration said it will focus on transporting overseas infant formula that has met FDA safety standards.

It is unclear how soon customers will see an impact on store shelves. Susan Mayne, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said Monday that it could take weeks to get imported product into the market.

The White House said Wednesday it was working to get more formula to stores “as soon as possible.”

Later Wednesday, the House voted 414-9 across bipartisan lines on a measure to make it easier for recipients of the Women, Infants and Children federal nutrition program to use their benefits to purchase infant formula amid the ongoing national shortage.

It would also allow recipients to use their benefits to purchase an expanded range of formulas in future public health emergencies or supply chain disruptions identified by the Department of Agriculture.

The chamber also approved a second measure, largely along party lines, to boost funding for the Food and Drug Administration by $28 million to help the agency better regulate and oversee the infant formula industry.

The vote was 231-192, with a dozen Republicans voting with Democrats on approval.

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