President Joe Biden is invoking the Defense Production Act to combat an ongoing shortage of baby formula, requiring companies to give supplies to formula manufacturers before any other customer, the White House announced Wednesday.
Biden is also launching what the administration is calling “Operation Fly Formula,” which authorizes Defense Department aircraft to pick up formula from overseas and bring it to the United States. Members of Congress in both parties had called on Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to help alleviate the shortage in recent weeks.
The two steps are the latest moves the White House is making to end a situation that worsened after a major baby formula manufacturer’s plant in Michigan issued a recall and was later shut down.
Four infants were hospitalized with bacterial infections after consuming formula from the Michigan plant owned by Abbott Labs. Two of the babies died.
“The President is moving swiftly and forcefully,” White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese wrote on Twitter. “These are major actions that will help minimize the disruption from the Abbott infant formula plant shutdown to the greatest extent possible.”
Increasing imports seems the likeliest short-term way to increase supply in the United States, and the Food and Drug Administration announced an expedited process to approve additional imports earlier this week. Allowing the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to use military aircraft to ship the formula ― instead of relying on commercial aircraft ― should help formula arrive on store shelves faster.
The White House and the formula producing industry have said formula production is higher than it was before the recall, but store shelves across the country remain bare and many major retailers are limiting formula sales to prevent hoarding.
Senate Democrats are pressuring Biden to name a point person on the formula crisis. Led by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), 30 senators wrote to the president on Wednesday asking him to name an official policy coordinator and create a national strategy to deal with the crisis.
“We need organized leadership and a clear plan for addressing this crisis,” the senators wrote. “We cannot stop working on this issue until babies are fed.”