Biden Resorts to War Measure To Speed Production of Baby Formula
‘The Defense Production Act gives the government the ability to require suppliers to direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good.’
President Biden’s invocation of the Defense Production Act to speed the manufacture of baby formula will remind Americans of wartime measures and, in any event, is an indication of how serious the baby formula shortages have become.
This move comes after mounting pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for the president to invoke the 1950s law that permits federal intervention in private business. The administration’s announcement Wednesday also came the day before the FDA commissioner, Robert Califf, is scheduled to testify before the House. President Trump previously invoked the Defense Production Act early in the Covid-19 pandemic to increase the supply of ventilators and other medical supplies.
“The Defense Production Act gives the government the ability to require suppliers to direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good,” Mr. Biden said in a video posted on Twitter. “I know parents all across the country are worried about finding enough infant formula to feed their babies — as a parent and as a grandparent, I know just how stressful that is.”
The formula shortages have reached a crisis point in recent weeks. Nationwide, 43 percent of baby formula was out of stock in the first week of May, up from 31 percent in early April, according to retail analytics firm Datasembly. In six states, the out-of-stock rate topped 50 percent. Parents are scrambling to find formula to feed their infants.
Critics have said Mr. Biden was too slow in responding to this crisis. The Abbott recall that exacerbated already existing supply chain issues and structural problems with the formula market occurred in mid-February. The administration didn’t publicly address the shortages until last week.
Mr. Biden also announced Wednesday a second initiative, Operation Fly Formula, to use Defense Department contracts with commercial air cargo lines to speed up the import of formula from overseas. Such imports were a top priority listed in the White House press conference last week. Nestle had also announced it was shipping Gerber formula from Switzerland and the Netherlands to meet demand.
“President Biden has directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use Department of Defense (DOD) commercial aircraft to pick up overseas infant formula that meets U.S. health and safety standards, so it can get to store shelves faster,” a White House statement says. “Bypassing regular air freighting routes will speed up the importation and distribution of formula and serve as an immediate support as manufacturers continue to ramp up production.”
On Wednesday evening, the House also approved two bills addressing the formula shortages. The first, a $28 million emergency spending bill sponsored by a Democrat, Representative Rosa DeLauro, provides the FDA with funds to address supply chain issues and increase inspections of infant formula. The second, which passed with bipartisan support, grants the federal government emergency authority to expand the types of formula that can be purchased with WIC.
Parents are hoping these actions provide some much needed relief.
Ms. McCaughey is a native New Yorker now based in New Hampshire. Her interests include politics, drug policy, and counterculture.