White House Pulls Out Stops Over Baby Formula Disaster

President Joe Biden recently invoked the Defense Production Act, a World War II law that lets the government directly manage private industry, to speed up authorized flights to import baby formula supplies from overseas and boost domestic formula production.

The president, already low in opinion polls, faces mounting political pressure over the domestic shortage caused by the closure of the U.S.’s largest formula manufacturing plant. The Abbott Nutrition plant was shut down in February over safety issues.

The Defense Production Act order requires formula manufacturer suppliers to fulfill orders from those companies before other customers. Biden’s invocation of the act is an effort to eliminate production bottlenecks.

The president also authorized the commercial use of aircraft by the Defense Department to fly formula supplies that meet or exceed federal standards from overseas into the United States.

The White House has called the commercial airliner use “Operation Fly Formula.”

Baby formula supplies across the U.S. have been severely depleted during recent weeks with the Abbott plant closure, exacerbating continuing supply chain disruptions among formula makers.

Dire shortages have left parents increasingly anxious and with fewer options to find nutrition for their children.

“I know parents across the country are worried about finding enough formula to feed their babies,” said Biden in a recorded video statement released by the White House. “As a parent and a grandparent, I know just how stressful that is.”

The administration’s announcement comes two days after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it is streamlining the review process to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to start shipping more formula into the United States.

In a recent letter to the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, the president directed the agencies to work alongside the Pentagon to identify available overseas supplies of formula that meet U.S. standards so chartered Defense Department flights can begin flying swiftly into the U.S.

“Imports of baby formula will serve as a bridge to this ramped-up production,” wrote President Biden.

Deal to restart production at plant

Government regulators recently said they had reached a deal to allow Abbott Nutrition to restart its baby formula plant in Sturgis, Michigan.

The nation’s largest plant has been closed due to contamination issues. Abbott must overhaul its procedures and safety protocols before resuming production.

After Abbott Nutrition gets approval from the FDA, it will take eight to 10 weeks before its newly produced baby formula arrives on store shelves.

The company has not yet set a timeline to restart manufacturing.

“I’ve directed my team to do everything possible to ensure there’s enough safe baby formula and that it is quickly reaching families that need it the most,” said Biden. He called it “one of my top priorities.”

Abbott Nutrition’s voluntary recall was triggered the illnesses of four babies who had consumed the plant’s powdered formula. All four infants were hospitalized with a rare bacterial infection, and two babies died.

For its part, Abbott has emphasized that its baby formula products have not been directly linked to bacterial infection cases. Samples taken from the plant did not match the samples collected by federal investigators from two of the babies.

As part of the FDA’s new policy on imported formula, regulators say companies will need to provide documentation of their factory’s inspections.