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Biden invokes Defense Production Act to spice up baby formula manufacturing to ease shortage

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The Abbott manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan, on May 13, 2022.

Jeff Kowalsky | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to extend baby formula manufacturing to ease a nationwide shortage attributable to the closure of a key plant in Michigan.

Biden is requiring suppliers to direct ingredients to baby formula manufacturers before every other firms who could have placed orders for those self same goods. It wasn’t immediately clear which major suppliers are subject to the order.

The Defense Production Act gives the president broad authority to require firms to prioritize the manufacture and allocation of products in response to a crisis. The law was passed in 1950 in the course of the Korean War.

Biden has also directed the Health and Human Services Department and Department of Agriculture to make use of aircraft from the Defense Department to choose up infant formula from overseas that meets U.S. health and safety standards.

Parents across the nation have struggled to seek out formula for his or her infants since Abbott Nutrition shuttered its plant in Sturgis, Michigan on account of bacterial contamination. Abbott issued a recall in February of powdered formula brands made on the plant after 4 infants who consumed products made there fell unwell with bacterial infections, two of whom died.

The Justice Department, in a grievance filed Monday, said Abbott had introduced adulterated baby formula into the patron market. Abbott maintains that there is “no conclusive evidence” that its formula caused the infants to fall unwell and die.

Abbott reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration on Monday to reopen the plant under conditions subject to enforcement by a federal court. Those conditions include hiring independent experts to be sure that the plant meets U.S. food safety standards.

Abbott said it could take about two weeks to reopen the Michigan facility, subject to FDA approval, and as much as eight weeks for products to reach in stores across the country.

The U.S. produces 98% of the child formula American parents buy. 4 manufacturers – Abbott, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestle USA and Perrigo – dominate the market. When one plant goes offline, the provision chain is definitely disrupted.

The FDA is increasing baby formula imports from other countries to assist ease the shortage. To sell formula within the U.S., firms need to submit an application to the FDA, which the agency will review to be sure the products are protected and supply adequate nutrition.

Nonetheless, Democratic lawmakers said this week that the FDA doesn’t have nearly enough inspectors to make sure imported formula is protected. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the FDA told her it has only nine inspectors to control infant formula manufacturers.

DeLauro introduced laws this week that will provide the FDA with $28 million in emergency funding to beef up inspections, monitor the provision chain and root out fraud.

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