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President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act Wednesday to address the nationwide baby formula shortage and directed his administration to use Defense Department aircraft to pick up formula from overseas that meets U.S. health and safety standards.
The announcement comes as the supply of infant formula across the country has decreased 40% since April, leaving parents of newborns frantic to find food to feed their babies. In addition, Abbott Laboratories announced a Similac recall exacerbating formula shortages in recent months.
The White House has said it is working “24/7” to address the issue.
The White House on Wednesday said that the president has “directed his team to do everything possible to ensure that there is enough safe infant formula in the country and available for families that need it” amid the voluntary recall of formula by Abbot Nutrition.
Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to ensure that manufacturers have the necessary ingredients to make “safe, healthy infant formula here at home.”
“The President is requiring suppliers to direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good,” the White House said. “Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains.”
The White House also announced the launch of its new program, “Operation Fly Formula” to speed up the import of infant formula and get more formula to stores in the United States as soon as possible.
The president directed the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture to use Department of Defense commercial aircraft to pick up overseas infant formula that meets U.S. health and safety standards, “so it can get to store shelves faster.”
The White House said DOD will use its contracts with commercial air cargo lines, as it did to move materials during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, to transport products from manufacturing facilities abroad that have met Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety standards.
“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,” the White House said.
President Biden, in a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsak, requested that they “take all appropriate measures available to get additional safe formula into the country immediately.”
“Specifically, I request that you work expeditiously to identify any and all avenues to speed the importation of safe infant formula into the United States and onto store shelves,” Biden wrote. “I further request that over the next week you work with the Department of Defense to utilize contracted aircraft to accelerate the arrival of infant formula into the United States that meets our Government’s health and safety standards.”
Earlier this week, the FDA and Abbott agreed on next steps to reopen Abbott’s facility in Sturgis, Michigan, which was closed due to concerns about bacterial contamination after four infants fell ill, the White House said. The FDA also announced guidance that will allow major formula manufacturers to safely import formula that is not currently being produced for the U.S. market.
The White House said the Biden administration is continuing to urge states to “cut red tape and implement WIC flexibility, as USDA wrote to states in a letter last week.”
“The Administration remains in close touch with manufacturers and retailers to identify transportation and logistical needs to increase the amount and speed of FDA approved formula being shipped into the country, and ensure that formula is quickly moving from factories to retailers,” the White House said.
“Today’s steps further underscore the Administration’s commitment to addressing the formula shortage quickly and safely, and the Administration will continue working overtime to get more formula to stores as soon as possible.”
The Defense Production Act was first enacted in 1950 as a response to the Korean War and has since been re-invoked more than 50 times since. The act also addresses voluntary agreements — or what the government says is “an association of private interests, approved by the Government to plan and coordinate actions in support of the national defense.” The provision permits business competitors to work together to plan and coordinate measures to increase the supply of materials.
Fox News’ Erin McEwan contributed to this report.