The White House, under pressure, says it will address the shortage of baby formulas

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration on Thursday said it was working to address a growing nationwide shortage of infant formula, announcing efforts to speed up production and increase imports as pressure grew to respond to a crisis that sees desperate parents scouring. the empty aisles of the shops to feed their children.

Officials outlined 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 stock bare shelves, particularly 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 moves to increase supply, including pushing states to give up packaging regulations to allow manufacturers to get the formula on store shelves more quickly. The administration is also ordering the Federal Trade Commission and state officials to crack down on counterfeiting prices and urging companies to institute purchase limits, officials said.

And they said the Food and Drug Administration would announce in the coming days that the United States would start importing more formulas. They indicated Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands as the main sources of these imports.

However, officials admitted that Americans wouldn’t necessarily see any immediate relief.

The announcement came as Republicans, sharpening their attacks on Biden and the Democrats ahead of the midterm Congressional election, sought to arm the shortage of infant formula. It was further proof of their claim that the unified Democratic government in Washington had led to inflation, high gas prices and other economic challenges, they said.

“The steps taken by the president today are a recognition and recognition that more needs to be done,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “Our message to parents is, we listen to you, we want to do everything we can and we will cut every element of the red tape to help address this problem and make it better for you, to get the formula on the shelves.”

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

On Thursday, senior administration officials said they did not have an 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 about which agency Americans should contact if they couldn’t find the formula, Ms. Psaki recognized the limitations of how the administration could help. “We would definitely encourage any parent who has concerns about their child’s health or well-being to call their doctor or pediatrician,” she said.

Meanwhile, officials said they were encouraging states to cut regulations for manufacturers, such as package size requirements, so they could streamline and increase production.

The Biden administration has come under increasing political pressure to address the crisis, not only from Republicans who have incorporated it into their mid-term playbook, but also from Democrats who are facing tough competitions for re-election.

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

“They are working it on a level of urgency,” Ms. Spanberger said. “Could they pass it on more aggressively? I wish everyone was crazy about it. “

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

The Democrats in the House have announced two hearings on the matter in the next two weeks.

At a press conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday, House Republicans blamed Biden for the shortage, saying his administration had failed to plan it and calling it his latest failure to address the economic challenges voters face.

The focus on the “crisis” formula matched the message that Republicans were hoping for their victories in November: that Biden and the Democrats have been incapable of dealing with issues like inflation and rising gas prices that matter most. for normal Americans.

Rep Elise Stefanik, a Republican from 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 more difficult across the board.

“My son, Sam, is 9 months old; he is fed with formula milk ”, Ms Stefanik, no. 3. House Republican, she said, noting her parents were piling up high gas bills as they drove around chasing formulas. “The shelves were quite empty.”

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

“Today images emerge from the border, where the Biden administration has sent pallets of formula milk for illegal mothers and their babies while American mothers and babies can’t find formula milk,” said Republican Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene. Georgia.

A White House official said it has been legally required since 1997 for border personnel to have nutrition, including infant formula, for people and children in custody. The official noted that the Trump and George W. Bush administrations followed that policy.

Rep Mike Waltz, a Republican from Florida and father of a 4-month-old baby, speculated that he had been overheard with colleagues ahead of the press conference.

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