Washington President Joe Biden announced Thursday that his administration was taking a series of steps to help address an alarming shortage of infant formula that has left desperate parents looking for food nationwide.
The shortage has persisted for months, first from a supply chain headache that has wreaked havoc with the broader economy, but it escalated after the country’s biggest formula maker Abbott recalled formula one. What came to mind after two infants died after eating tainted formula also closed a major factory in Sturgis, Michigan.
Senior administration officials told reporters on Thursday that more formulas were prepared in the United States than in the past month, but they also declined to predict when the shelves will be fully reopened. will be stocked. Retailers across the country have limited sales of the formula to prevent hoarding.
“This administration is working round the clock so that we can bring more and more produce to the market while protecting the safety and well being of the families,” an administration official said. The White House was working quietly on the issue. Remember in February.
“We’ve worked with all the manufacturers of infant formula to bring the products to market, and we’ve really seen that pay off, and it’s helping to ease some of the challenges we might otherwise face,” the official said. can cope.” “At the same time, we fully recognize the despair that American families are feeling right now.”
On Thursday, Biden spoke with retailers and manufacturers including Walmart, Target, among others. Reckitt and Gerber. Later, the White House announced that it would ask state governments to provide more flexibility to the WIC program, which provides a formula for poor families; Will proceed to import more infant formula; And ask the Federal Trade Commission and the state attorney general to crack down on the formula at any cost.
It will take some time for all the three phases to be implemented. Right now, the WIC program often limits what formula products families can purchase, so loosening those rules should make manufacturing easier. Some stores are also required to keep a certain amount of formula in stock, and lifting those restrictions should bring more formula to store shelves.
Right now, the United States produces about 98% of its formula domestically. The White House said the Food and Drug Administration would soon announce steps to increase imports.
Members of Congress in both parties, including House Appropriations Speaker Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), have suggested that Biden invoke the Defense Production Act to increase formula supplies. The White House said the option was being considered.
“We will continue to explore every option on the table and look at any levers we can to tackle the situation,” the official said.
Republicans Complain That the FDA closed the Michigan facility without evaluating how the shutdown will affect formula supplies, and they have called the Biden administration too slow to respond to the formula crisis. And some Republicans have begun to question why the plant remains closed.
Abbott shutdown occurred in response to potentially serious health threat: Four children fell ill chronobacter sakazaki The bacterial infection lasts after drinking the formula from the plant, and two of them die. The FDA warned parents not to use certain formulas in February, and Abbott recalled the affected products.
according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention“Cronobacter diseases are rare, but they are often fatal to infants.”
During a series of inspections beginning in January and continuing through March, FDA inspectors found chronobacter sakazaki Germs on Abbott Plant Surfaces on 20 Occasions, According to FDA’s Form 483 Report, which includes the “scoop hopper,” a piece of scoop feeding equipment that is “placed directly inside an infant formula container and contacts product.” The company also found Cronobacter in two finished products.
The FDA found Abbott employees not following company protocols, such as failing to clean their shoes when entering sensitive areas. Inspectors also noticed water leaks, puddles and debris-covered duct tape on the floor of a production room.
Abbott has said there is “no evidence” linking its formula to the four Cronobacter diseases, because genetic sequencing of Cronobacter that sickened two babies found different strains of the bacteria in the plant.
“Open containers from infant homes were also tested in three out of four cases; Two of the three tested negative,” Abbott said in a statement, “One positive was from an open container from the infant’s home, and it was tested positive for two different strains chronobacter sakazaki, one of which corresponds to the strain that caused the infection to the baby, and the other to a strain found at home on a bottle of distilled water that mixed the formula. Again, none matched the strain found in our plant.”
should not be Any Cronobacter at a baby formula factory, said Peter Pitts, a former FDA associate commissioner. It doesn’t really matter that the babies got sick from different strains of the germ.
“It forced the FDA to look at this plant, which was in terrible compliance condition. They stumbled upon the problem,” Pitts said. “The only thing worse than a lack of baby formula is low quality formula. People keep asking who is to blame here and the answer is Abbott.
Abbott has said it can restart the plant within two weeks with FDA approval; Pitts said inspectors are still checking the facility’s cleanliness.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), one of the first lawmakers to inquire about plant closures, welcomed White House efforts to reduce supplies, but said both Abbott and the FDA have yet to Has not explained its functions sufficiently. lead to crisis.
“There are real questions about when the world was notified, when people knew about the problem. … [There’s] There are a lot of failures here, but in the short term you have to figure out a way to get people the formula they need,” Casey said.
Political concerns about the shortage are clearly growing. Rape. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), who represents a swing district, wrote on twitter He discussed the shortfall with White House Chief of Staff Ron Klein on Thursday, and said he discussed using the Defense Production Act and lifting tariffs on imported formula.
“Quick action is needed, and the White House must take decisive action. In the long term, I am following the law to ensure that we never face this challenge again,” Spanberger said.
After returning to work from maternity leave in March, one day Maria Cintron sent her husband to the store to get some formula. She was breastfeeding her 6-month-old, but needed supplements now that she could return to work.
Cintron said her husband came back the wrong way — but it wasn’t because he had made a mistake. This was because nothing else was available at the store. Later she went back to the store and saw for herself the barren shelves.
“It’s so ridiculous,” she said.
This week, Cintron said, they stopped buying liquid formula instead of the usual powder type, which is less expensive.
For Cintron, the lack brought home the struggles facing the parents she serves. Director of Hopeline, a community resource center that helps low-income families in New York City. Cintron said her organization typically gives families a single can of baby formula powder when they pick up a box of food or diapers, but lately families are asking for more while Hopeline has less to give.
“A A lot of our parents are coming back and telling us to make exceptions because they’re struggling to get the formula on their own,” Cintron said. “It’s a given that we have this extra for them.” The asset is there and we are fighting to get it.”