President Joe Biden on Friday lashed out at critics as he defended his administration’s actions to relieve the infant formula shortage that has panicked parents worried about feeding their babies.
‘If we’d been better mind readers, I guess we could have,’ Biden said when asked if his administration should have acted sooner.
Biden was speaking at an event on community policing and said he would only speak on that topic before – somewhat grumpily – conceding to talk about formula shortages.
‘I’ll answer the baby from the question because all of a sudden it’s on the front page of every newspaper,’ he said.
The president predicted it would only be a ‘matter of weeks or less’ for there to be more formula on the shelves.
‘We’re going to be in a matter of weeks – or less – getting significantly where more formula is on shelves,’ he said.
Biden said his administration was working hard on the matter and had ‘nothing more urgent’ on its plate.
‘This is a process we working very, very hard. There’s nothing more urgent we’re working on that right now. And I think we’re really making some significant progress,’ he said.
His comments came after the Food and Drug Administration said the baby formula shortage should improve dramatically in weeks.
Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said the agency will announce plans next week detailing how manufacturers and suppliers abroad will be able to import their products into the United States, as well as new options for U.S. companies.
The FDA is aiming for a streamlined process that will get more products on U.S. shelves while meeting safety, quality and labeling standards, he said. The $4 billion U.S. baby formula market is dominated by domestic producers, with imports limited and subject to high tariffs.
‘We believe these and other ongoing efforts will help dramatically improve the supply in the U.S. in a matter of weeks,’ Califf wrote on Twitter. ‘Our data indicates that in stock rates in retail stores are stabilizing but we continue to work around the clock to further increase availability.’
President Joe Biden lashed out at critics as he defended his administration’s actions to relieve the infant formula shortage
Meanwhile, the House Oversight Committee is launching an investigation into the baby formula shortage and demanding records and information from four of the largest manufacturers.
‘The national formula shortage poses a threat to the health and economic security of infants and families in communities across the country – particularly those with less income who have historically experienced health inequities, including food insecurity,’ Democratic Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney of New York wrote in letters to Abbott Nutrition, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestle USA and Perrigo, first obtained by ABC News.
The Oversight committee is the investigative arm of Congress and broad authority to probe a variety of issues.
The panel is looking into the price gouging around infant formula and the steps the companies are taking to address the shortages.
Also, Maloney specificially asked Chris Calamari, chairman of Abbott Nutrition, for information about the recall of its formula after several babies were hospitalized and two died from a rare bacterial infection in some of its product.
Maloney wants answers to her questions, along with a briefing from the companies, by May 26.
U.S. parents rely on baby formula. Fewer than half of babies born in the United States were exclusively breast-fed through their first three months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2020 Breastfeeding Report Card.
‘It is unconscionable and tragic that, right now, families cannot find safe, affordable baby formula to keep their children healthy and growing,’ Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday in a statement.
The House of Representatives next week will bring up a bill to grant emergency authority to the WIC program to address supply-chain disruptions and recalls by relaxing non-safety-related regulations, she noted.
Pelosi also said an emergency spending bill to address the infant formula shortage would advance in the House.
The House Oversight Committee – led by Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York (above) – is launching an investigation into the baby formula shortage and demanding records and information from four of the largest manufacturers
Congress is demanding records and information from four of the largest manufacturers of baby forumula amid shortage
Republicans, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm after discovering baby formula is being sent to border facilities while American mothers are facing empty shelves amid massive shortages.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed to a federal law that requires ‘adequate food and elsewhere specifies age appropriateness.’
‘Hence formula for kids under the age of one. CBP is following the law,’ she said at her press briefing on Friday.
President Biden’s administration is struggling to respond, unable to reassure parents when there will be more formula on empty grocery store shelves and where they can turn to for help.
GOP Representative Kat Cammack tweeted Thursday two images, one showing full shelves of baby formula and food from a processing center at the southern border and another showing empty shelves where baby formula was supposed to be at an American grocery store.
‘The first photo is from this morning at the Ursula Processing Center at the U.S. border. Shelves and pallets packed with baby formula,’ Cammack wrote. ‘The second is from a shelf right here at home. Formula is scarce.’
‘This is what America last looks like,’ she added.
Meanwhile, concerned parents are begging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reopen the nation’s largest baby formula plant after the nationwide shortage has left their infants hungry and ill.
But the White House on Thursday defended the closure of the Abbott plant but officials couldn’t say when it would reopen.
‘The reason we’re here is because the FDA took a step to ensure that babies were taking safe formula. There were babies who died from taking this formula so they were doing their jobs,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at her daily press briefing.
President Joe Biden got personally involved on Thursday when he met with executives from infant formula manufactures and retailers including Target, Walmart and Nestle’s Gerber to discuss the issue.
Biden spoke with manufacturers Reckitt and Gerber about their efforts to increase production.
‘Both companies stated that they are operating 24/7 with Gerber, increasing the amount of their infant formula available to consumers by approximately 50% in March and April. Reckitt is supplying more than 30% more product year to date,’ the White House said in a readout of the president’s meeting.
And his administration announced additional steps it was taking to boost the production of baby formula.
But officials were short on specifics. They couldn’t say when the Abbott plant would reopen, they couldn’t say when more baby formula would be for sale and Psaki couldn’t offer any options when asked who parents can call for help.
Formula shortages have been compounded by supply chain snags and historic inflation, leaving about 40% of baby formula products out of stock nationwide, according to data firm Datasembly.
The White House defended the FDA’s closure of the Abbott plant that resulted in a shortage of baby formula; ‘There were babies who died from taking this formula so they were doing their jobs,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said
GOP Representative Kat Cammack tweeted Thursday outrage over border centers being fully stocked with baby formula while American grocery stores are seeing massive shortages and empty shelves where formula should be
Empty shelves at a Target store in san Antonio, Texas
The administration did acknowledge the frustration.
‘We absolutely recognize the frustration of parents and family,’ a senior administration official said on a briefing call with reporters but added: ‘I don’t have a particular timeline for you’ when asked when parents would see some relief.
The officials also didn’t know when Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis, Michigan, plant – one of the largest producers of formula – would be back online.
‘We do not today have an estimate for accessibility will come on line. But as we just said that the administration is working around the clock to do everything we can to to bring as much production to market,’ the official said.
Abbott said that pending FDA approval, ‘we could restart the site within two weeks.’
Once production began, it would take six weeks to eight weeks for the baby formula to be available on shelves.
Among the steps the administration announced was cutting red tape when it comes to the size of the formula.
‘We recognize that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country, something the President is very focused on and we’re going to do everything we can to cut red tape and and take steps to increase supply on the marketplace,’ Psaki said.
Manufacturers typically make multiple sized containers of the product and government programs like WIC often limit what size can be purchased. The administration is working to change those limits to ease the burden on manufactuers and let them rush out one size.
Some manufacturers are ramping up production, Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, told CNN.
The retailers told Biden ‘the most important step that we can take right now is to give retailers more flexibility on the types of formula that they can sell. And consumers more flexibility on the types that they can buy, particularly through the WIC program,’ for low-income families, Deese said.
Deese would not speculate on how long the shortages might last.
‘All of these steps together will make progress. It’s not going to solve itself in a day or week,’ he said.
Officials also said the administration would work to increase the imports of baby formula but would have more details available on that at a later date.
And the administration is calling on state attorneys general to crack down on price gouging. Formula has been going for up to $120 a can as desperate parents try to feed their children.
Biden sent a letter on the matter to the Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan on Thursday.
‘It is unacceptable for families to lose time and spend hundreds of dollars more because of price gougers’ actions,’ he wrote.
‘I therefore ask that the Commission further examine whether there is price gouging in infant formula occurring, thoroughly investigate complaints brought to you through channels such as your fraud hotline, and that you bring all of the Commission’s tools to bear if you uncover any wrongdoing. We know State attorneys general are also examining this issue and may be valuable partners in this effort.’
Parents in Tennessee are the hardest-hit by the baby formula shortage, new data obtained by DailyMail.com shows
This chart shows how quickly the nationwide crisis has escalated. The scale of the crisis is revealed in the new analysis, which shows that only 43 percent of the usual national supply of baby formula is available
Republican Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida have called on the administration to use the Defense Production Act to get more formula produced.
The White House did not rule it out.
‘We’re gonna keep every option on the table,’ the senior administration official said.
Psaki also said it was an option.
‘You have to ensure that it would actually achieve what you’re trying to achieve,’ she said of using the act.
The formal shortage came in part due to a voluntary recall of several lines of powdered formula from Abbott Nutrition, which is the largest formula manufacturer in the U.S.