White House, under pressure, says it will tackle shortage of infant formula


WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said Thursday it is working to address the nation’s deepening infant formula shortage, announcing efforts to ramp up manufacturing and increase imports as pressure mounts to respond to a crisis that drives desperate parents to roam empty store aisles to feed their children. .

Officials presented the plan after President Biden met with retailers and manufacturers, including Walmart, Target, Reckitt and Gerber, about their efforts to increase production. They also discussed steps the federal government could take to help stockpile bare shelves, especially in rural areas, according to senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to detail the conversation.

After the meeting, the White House announced a series of modest steps to increase supply, including pushing states to waive packaging regulations to allow manufacturers to get formula onto store shelves more quickly. The administration is also directing the Federal Trade Commission and state officials to crack down on price gouging and calling on companies to institute purchase limits, officials said.

And they said that in the next few days, the Food and Drug Administration would announce that the United States would start importing more infant formula. They cited Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands as the main sources of these imports.

Still, officials admitted that Americans would not necessarily see immediate relief.

The announcement came as Republicans, stepping up their attacks on Mr Biden and Democrats ahead of the midterm congressional elections, sought to weaponize the baby formula shortage. It was further proof of their claim that the unified Democratic regime in Washington had led to inflation, high gas prices and other economic challenges, they said.

“The steps the president has taken today are recognition and recognition that there is still much more to do,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “Our message to parents is, we hear you, we want to do everything we can and we’re going to cut out all the pieces of bureaucracy to help fix this and make it better for you, to get formula on the shelves.”

The shortage is expected to last for months as the government and retailers try to address a production shortfall that began in February after a voluntary recall of several ranges of powdered formulas. That month, Abbott Nutrition, the nation’s largest infant formula maker, had to close its Sturgis, Michigan plant due to concerns about bacterial contamination after four infants fell ill, two of whom are deceased.

Senior administration officials said Thursday they had no estimate of when the plant would reopen, or when parents looking for baby food would see an increase in products available on the shelves. Pressed on which agency Americans should contact if they can’t find a formula, Ms Psaki acknowledged the limits of how the administration could help. “We certainly encourage any parent who is concerned about their child’s health or well-being to call their doctor or pediatrician,” she said.

In the meantime, officials said they are encouraging states to reduce regulations for manufacturers, such as package size requirements, so they can streamline and increase production.

The Biden administration has come under mounting political pressure to deal with the crisis, not only from Republicans who included it in their midterm playbook, but also from Democrats who face tough re-election contests. .

“I’m not satisfied until there’s food on the shelves,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia, who is up for re-election, said in an interview. She said that immediately after appearing on television to discuss the shortage, she received a call from Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff.

“They are working with a level of urgency,” Ms. Spanberger said. “Could they pass it on more aggressively? I wish everyone was apoplectic with their hair on fire about this.

She said she and Mr. Klain had discussed invoking the Defense Production Act to increase production, and that officials had indicated they were considering doing so. She said they also discussed removing tariffs that would allow the United States to get imported formula onto American shelves more quickly.

House Democrats have announced two hearings on the issue over the next two weeks.

At a Capitol Hill news conference on Thursday, House Republicans blamed Mr. Biden for the shortage, saying his administration did not foresee it and calling it his latest failure to deal with the economic challenges facing voters face.

The focus on the formula crisis dovetailed with the message Republicans hoped to drive home in November: that Mr. Biden and the Democrats have been powerless on issues such as inflation and rising oil prices. gasoline that matter most to ordinary Americans.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, said the administration should have had a plan for the shortage months ago, while others blamed the president for simply making family life harder for everyone levels.

“My son, Sam, is 9 months old; he’s formula-fed,” said Ms. Stefanik, the No. 3 Republican House, noting that parents were racking up high gas bills as they drove in search of formula. “The shelves are quite empty.”

Although the event focused on the most basic human needs, far-right Republicans turned it into a forum to air some of their favorite attacks on Mr Biden, trying to tie the formula shortage to his border policies and even efforts to reduce drugs. overdoses.

“Images are emerging today from the border, where the Biden administration has sent pallets of formula for illegal mothers and their babies while American mothers and babies cannot find formula,” the statement said. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia.

A White House official said that since 1997 it has been mandatory by law for border personnel to have food, including formula, for people and infants in police custody. The official noted that the Trump and George W. Bush administrations have followed this policy.

Rep. Mike Waltz, a Republican from Florida and a father of a 4-month-old, speculated that he was heard in the workshop with colleagues before the press conference.

“Think about the fact that in Joe Biden’s America, it seems to be easier to get a crack pipe from a government-funded smoking kit than to find formula,” he said. declared.


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