The United States typically produces 98 percent of the formula consumed in the country. “But given the production and distribution issues leading to local short supplies of infant formula, the FDA will, in the coming days, announce specific new steps it is taking concerning importing certain infant formula products from abroad,” the White House said in a statement.
The shortages stem from the FDA, or Food and Drug Administration, shutting down an Abbott Laboratories plant after finding unsanitary conditions as part of an investigation into the deaths of several infants.
The FDA did not respond to a request for comment on the White House’s announcement, which came after Biden met with executives from formula makers Reckitt and Gerber.
The two companies are both increasing production, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a briefing. Biden discussed ways to help them do so, she said.
Biden also spoke with executives from Target and Walmart, two of the largest retailers in the country, on keeping shelves stocked with formula.
The administration “continues to monitor this situation and identify other ways we can support the safe and rapid increase in the production and distribution of baby formula,” Psaki said.
She declined to answer questions on when the FDA will allow Abbott to resume operations at its plant, which is in Sturgis, Michigan.
Abbott said this week that it could resume production within two weeks of getting clearance but that it would take six to eight additional weeks from resumption to get its formula to stores.
The shortages have left many parents scrambling, with some visiting multiple stores without success.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) urged Biden on Thursday to utilize the Defense Production Act (DPA) to force companies to ramp up production, direct the FDA to quickly approve formula that has been cleared by the European Union for sale in the United States, and to expeditiously let the Abbott plant reopen.
“There is ample precedent for using the DPA to address a crisis in peacetime,” Rubio wrote in a letter to the president. “In April 2020, President Donald Trump invoked the DPA to sustain the U.S. meatpacking industry. You yourself have invoked the DPA several times. A major supply chain disruption that puts the lives of America’s infants in jeopardy is worthy of the same response.”
“Additionally, the urgent approval of European infant formula products, which cannot be sold in the U.S. for largely arbitrary reasons, would increase formula supply in the short term. Lastly, it is unacceptable that the FDA has not worked more expeditiously to facilitate the reopening of the Abbott infant formula plant, which was closed in February.”
Other lawmakers have called on the administration to take more steps to address the issue.
“The Biden administration must prioritize fixing supply chain disruptions and getting baby formula back on the shelves,” Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa), both mothers, told Biden in a missive.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a briefing before Biden’s meetings that Democrats had some solutions under consideration, but would wait to see what Biden announced before detailing them.