President Biden invoked an emergency mobilization measure Wednesday as his administration scrambles to stem the ongoing infant formula shortage.
The invocation of the Defense Production Act will require suppliers to prioritize sending resources to formula producers ahead of other customers.
“Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up … supply chains,” the White House said Wednesday.
The administration also announced measures to streamline the process for importing foreign-produced formula.
Under what the White House calls “Operation Fly Formula,” the Health and Human Services and Agriculture departments will use Pentagon-contracted commercial aircraft to pick up overseas infant formula that meets U.S. health and safety standards.
The move lets the carriers bypass regular air-freight routes, which the White House says will speed up final delivery to store shelves.
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The imported products, however, will have to meet Food and Drug Administration safety standards.
“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 White House said.
The formula shortage has added to the compounding crises, including inflation and soaring gas prices, that have posed relentless political challenges for the administration and Democrats on the Hill.
Party leaders have sought to shed blame pointing fingers at the leading domestic formula producer, Abbott Nutrition, for the scarcity.
The FDA shuttered Abbott’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan, in February citing safety and quality issues after four infants became sick, two of whom died.
Abbott officials deny that their product was responsible for the infants’ illness, but issued a recall of its formula anyway. The company says it is now ready to open its plant.
On Monday the Justice Department filed a complaint and proposed a consent decree that would allow the plant to reopen but require Abbot to take actions to ensure safety and compliance with FDA regulations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Abbott could face criminal charges.
“I think there might be a need for indictment,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters.
Democrats are also considering legislation that would give the federal government more control over the supply and distribution of formula, particularly when shortages arise. The plan would require formula companies to report inventory to the Food and Drug Administration, which could then move supplies from one state to another to fill empty shelves.
“We have a stronger hand to play here, if we would be willing to do so,” Mrs. Pelosi said.