Saturday, 01 Oct 2022

Biden: Resolving baby formula shortage could take 'couple more months'

Biden: Resolving baby formula shortage could take 'couple more months'

WASHINGTON (Writer)— President Joe Biden on Wednesday said it could “take a couple of more months” for the availability of baby formula to return to normal.

Biden, meeting with a group of the leading baby formula manufacturers at the White House, told the group: “I ask you to keep focus, stay focused, stay in high gear. We can't let up … until it’s all the way back to normal, and that's going to take a couple more months, but we're making significant progress.”

The president met with the manufacturers shortly after the White House announced new shipments of baby formula will arrive from Australia and England in the coming days.

The foreign shipments are meant to alleviate shortages that were spurred after a recall of Abbott-produced formula in February and the subsequent closure of the company’s Sturgis, Michigan, plant over safety violations. The company recently reached a deal with the Food and Drug Administration to reopen its facility in the coming days.

“The last thing we should ever do is allow unsafe formula to be sold to parents,” Biden said. “Instead, we should increase production of safe formula to make every American family so they can get what they need for their child.”

As part of Biden’s Operation Fly Formula, about 300,000 pounds of British-produced Kendamil infant formula will be flown into the United States starting June 9. The formula should be enough to produce 3.7 million 8-ounce bottles, according to the White House.

Australian producer Bubs also has committed to exporting 380,000 pounds of its formula to the United States starting June 9. The shipment will produce about 4.6 million 8-ounce bottles.

The shipments come after Biden invoked the Defense Production Act on May 18 to ease import restrictions on foreign-produced baby formula in response to the national shortage. Since then, two previous waves of European produced baby formula have arrived in the United States for distribution.

As parents across the nation continue to encounter bare baby formula shelves, manufacturers at the roundtable discussion with Biden said they continued to run their plants above usual capacity and hoped the shortages would level off in the coming weeks.

“Our plants are running 24/7 with unlimited overtime,” said Robert Cleveland, a senior vice president at Reckitt, the company that manufactures Enfamil brand products.

Cleveland said the company is awaiting approval from the FDA to import Enfamil products manufactured at its plants in Singapore and Mexico.

Biden asked the manufacturers if they initially anticipated that the Abbott plant closure would impact the overall baby formula market. Several of the executives on hand said they foresaw that the closure would create issues.

“We knew from the very beginning this would be a very serious event,” Cleveland said.

Murray Kessler, chief executive of Perrigo, a company that produces generic brands of formula for U.S. retailers, said “we could foresee that this was going to create tremendous shortage.” Kessler said the company’s plants in Ohio and Vermont are running nonstop seven days a week.

Asked by reporters after the event if he anticipated the Abbott plant closure would cause the level of shortages it has, Biden said he was not briefed about the severity of the shortages until early April.

“Once we learned the extent of it, and how broad it was, it kicked everything into gear,” Biden said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked why Biden was not alerted sooner to the potential severity of the Abbott plant closure, said the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture had been working on the potential impact “since Day 1 of the recall.”

"The recall happened on February 17. On February 18, USDA issued detailed guidance to states on how to seek waivers in their WIC programs,” said Jean-Pierre, referring to the government program that provides infant formula stipends to low-income families.

Pressed by reporters about when Biden was briefed on the shortages, Jean-Pierre said “the president has multiple issues, crises at the moment,"


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