Biden invokes Defense Production Act to combat infant formula shortages

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President Joe Biden previously used the act to spur the production of COVID-19 vaccines and firehoses to combat wildfires.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to increase the supply of infant formula across the United States in response to recent shortages.

"The President is requiring suppliers to direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good. 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 noted in a statement.

Congress passed the Defense Production Act in 1950 during the Korean War. The law gives the president the power to order private businesses to prioritize the production of materials deemed necessary for national defense.

Infant formula has become increasingly scarce since February when a Michigan plant owned by Abbott Nutrition was shut down following a recall of its formula. Two infants died after they were fed Abbott's Similac formula and contracted the rare bacteria Cronobacter sakazakii.

In addition to increasing formula production with the Defense Production Act, the Biden administration announced that it had launched "Operation Fly Formula." The operation is a joint project of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Defense to import more infant formula from other countries.

The administration also previously announced that it had made waivers available to parents using federal benefits under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) which would allow them to purchase formula varieties they had not been able to in the past.

On Monday, Abbott announced that it had entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would eventually lead to a reopening of the affected plant after it addresses the contamination issue.

Biden has used the powers of the defense production law twice before in his presidency.

On his second day in office, on Jan. 21, 2021, Biden used the Defense Production Act to prioritize the production of COVID-19 vaccines. Within 58 days, the administration had administered 100 million doses of the vaccine, well ahead of the White House's previously stated target of 100 million doses in 100 days. Roughly 315 million doses of vaccine were administered during Biden's first six months in office.

Last September, Biden also used the Defense Production Act to get a private contractor to increase the production of fire hoses to combat wildfires in California. The company, NewView Oklahoma, employs blind and visually impaired workers and is the main producer of fire hoses for the U.S. Forest Service. Biden's authorization led to the company doubling its production of hoses.

By contrast, former President Donald Trump was widely criticized for delaying his decision to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase the production of ventilators during the initial waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, even after multiple governors raised the alarm that they were experiencing shortages of the vital medical equipment.

On Wednesday evening, Democrats in the House of Representatives voted in favor of legislation providing $28 million in emergency funding to hire more FDA inspectors to oversee formula factories' production across the country. Just 12 House Republicans voted in favor of the bill, with 192 House Republicans voting against the emergency funding.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.