White House under pressure says it will address baby formula shortage

White House under pressure says it will address baby formula shortage

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said Thursday it was working to address a worsening shortage of infant formula across the country, announcing efforts to speed manufacturing and increase imports as pressure mounts to respond to a crisis that it has desperate parents scouring empty store aisles 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 ramp up production. They also discussed steps the federal government could take to help stock empty 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 steps to increase supply, including pressing states to remove packaging regulations to allow manufacturers to get formula on store shelves more quickly. The administration is also directing the Federal Trade Commission and state officials to crack down on price gouging and asking businesses to set purchase limits, the officials said.

And they said that in the next few days, the Food and Drug Administration would announce that the United States would begin importing more formula. They mentioned Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands as the key sources of such imports.

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

The announcement came as Republicans, who have sharpened their attacks on Biden and Democrats ahead of the midterm elections, sought to weaponize baby formula shortages. It was further evidence of his claim that the unified Democratic government in Washington had caused inflation, high gas prices and other economic challenges, they said.

“The steps the president took today are an acknowledgment and an acknowledgment that more needs to be done,” 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 through every element of red tape to help address this and make it better for you, to have formula on the shelves.”

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

Senior administration officials said Thursday that they had no estimate of when the plant would reopen, or when parents searching for baby food would see an increase in products available on shelves. Pressed on which agency Americans should contact if they can’t find the formula, Ms. Psaki acknowledged the limits of how the administration could help. “We certainly 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 ease 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 built it into their midterm playbook, but also from Democrats facing re-election challenges.

“I’m not satisfied until there’s food on the shelves,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia, who is running 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,” Spanberger said. “Could you broadcast it more aggressively? I wish everyone was hairs on fire apoplectic 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 she also discussed removing tariffs that would allow the United States to get imported formula on American shelves more quickly.

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

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

The focus on the formula crisis dovetailed with the message Republicans hoped would deliver victory in November: that Biden and the Democrats have been irresponsible on issues like inflation and rising gas prices that matter most to them. ordinary Americans.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York, said the administration should have had a plan for shortages months ago, while others criticized the president for simply making family life difficult across the board.

“My son, Sam, is 9 months old; he’s formula-fed,” said Stefanik, the No. 3 House Republican, noting that parents were racking up steep gas bills as they drove around looking for formula. “The shelves have been pretty empty.”

Though 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 Biden, trying to link formula shortages to his border policies and even efforts to reduce drugs. overdose

“Images are emerging today from the border, where the Biden administration has been sending pallets of baby formula to illegal mothers and their babies, while American mothers and babies are unable to find baby formula,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor. Greene, Republican of Georgia.

A White House official said that since 1997, border staff have been required by law to have nutrition, including baby formula, for people and babies in detention. The official noted that the Trump and George W. Bush administrations followed that policy.

Rep. Mike Waltz, a Republican from Florida and the father of a 4-month-old baby, hypothesized that he was overheard speaking to colleagues before the news 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 it is to find baby formula,” he said.

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