Biden administration takes steps to fix baby formula shortage

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President Joe Biden said, 'We moved as quickly as the problem became apparent to us.'

The Biden administration has announced more steps it is taking to address the ongoing shortage of infant formula across the United States.

On Monday, Food & Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf appeared on CNN and told correspondent Kaitlan Collins:

We're working with the manufacturers to increase their production, we're working on the supply chain to get the right product to the right place at the right time, we're working closely with Abbott to get that plant that was shut down up and operating as soon as possible. And we're also working to make it possible to use formula that was intended for other countries in a set of announcements I expect will come out – anticipate will come out by the end of the day today. ... We anticipate that within a few weeks we'll have things back to normal.

The shortage is a result of a number of factors, experts say, including COVID-related supply problems, trade restrictions on the importation of baby formula into the United States, and a voluntary product recall on Feb. 17 by Abbott, one of the larger infant formula makers in the U.S., which said it was due to consumer complaints about the bacteria Cronobacter sakazakii in infants who had consumed formula made at the company's facility in Sturgis, Michigan. It also noted, "We found evidence of Cronobacter sakazakii in the plant in non-product contact areas."

The Food and Drug Administration says the bacteria can be deadly for infants, possibly causing blood infections or meningitis.

An FDA inspection of Abbott's facility released in March found that the company failed to maintain sanitary conditions and that there was a history of contamination from the bacteria at the location.

The administration has taken steps since the recall to address formula availability.

The Department of Agriculture has provided waivers to parents using federal benefits under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children so that they can purchase formula varieties that they have previously been unable to.

The administration made the waivers available in February; Stacy Dean, the deputy undersecretary of agriculture for food, nutrition, and consumer services, sent a letter addressed to state health commissioners on Friday "to reiterate the flexibilities that USDA has made available to all WIC state agencies and to urge all states to take additional action to make it easier for families to get the formula they need."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in her last appearance in the role, told a press conference on Monday that the Department of Agriculture "directed all states to review their practices. And the Agricultural Department is reaching out to states throughout the day, building on months of conversations. And next week, USDA will follow up on the letter and calls to provide states with help to issue waivers."

The Department of Health and Human Services has released a fact sheet for parents giving them information on the recall and resources for finding formula.

The FDA has said that it is using its "21 Forward" food supply management system, developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, in concert with data from outside companies to monitor the status of the formula supply. The agency is also helping retailers to determine where formula is being stocked and where it needs to be sent to meet demand.

President Joe Biden has publicly called on the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to crack down on price gouging and other unfair market practices related to formula sales.

"Parents looking to feed their child should not be taken advantage of by unscrupulous retailers unfairly jacking up prices," the White House said in a statement.

Biden told reporters on Friday, "We moved as quickly as the problem became apparent to us. And we have to move with caution as well as speed, because we've got to make sure what we're getting is in fact first-rate product."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.