President Joe Biden announced several steps Thursday to address the nationwide baby formula shortage, after meeting with retailers and manufacturers, including Walmart, Target, Reckitt and Gerber, about their efforts to increase production.
Infant formula has been in short supply across the U.S. in recent months, the result of ongoing supply chain issues and a February recall from one major formula manufacturer. That recall, which came after four children developed bacterial infections, temporarily shut down an Abbott facility in Michigan. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not allowed the facility to reopen yet.
“I think it’s also important to note that the reason we’re here is because the FDA took a step to ensure that babies were taking safe formula,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “There were babies who died from taking this formula, so they were doing their jobs.”
But with the Abbott shutdown, stock of formula has been dwindling. Retail data company Datasembly reported Tuesday that 43% of baby formula brands were out of stock in the first week of May — the highest rate of the shortage so far.
A White House news release Thursday identified three steps to “get infant formula onto store shelves as quickly as possible without compromising safety.”
First, the Food and Drug Administration will consider new rules for importing baby formula. Usually, about 98% of formula in the U.S. is produced domestically, according to the White House.
“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 release reads.
They listed Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands as the key sources of such imports.
While shortages continue, Biden has also instructed state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate “illegal and predatory conduct,” like price gouging.
Biden’s plan also relies on state-level changes. States may allow more formulas to be purchased through the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. States are also encouraged to relax requirements that stores keep a certain amount of formula in stock, potentially freeing up some inventory for sale.
“The steps the president took today are an acknowledgment and a recognition that more needs to be done,” Psaki said. “Our message to parents is, we hear you, we want to do everything we can and we’re going to cut every element of red tape to help address this and make it better for you, to get formula on the shelves.”
“We’re going to cut every element of red tape we can cut. We’re going to work with manufacturers. We’re going to import more to expedite this as quickly as possible,” Psaki told reporters Thursday.
The House also plans to convene a panel to discuss the shortage later this month.