WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will speak with retailers and manufacturers on Thursday as the administration grapples with a baby formula shortage that has worsened in recent weeks.
Biden will “receive an update on efforts to make infant formula supply more available to American families,” a White House official said about the meeting, which will take place virtually.
Later Thursday afternoon, the White House is expected to announce additional actions that the federal government will take to solve the problem, the official said.
A shortage of baby formula, which began in the early days of the pandemic, has worsened in recent weeks because of labor shortages and a major product recall, creating panic and anxiety among parents across the nation. Some have called the shortage a crisis that has gone on for too long.
In February, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it was investigating certain powdered baby formula made by Abbott Nutrition at a facility based in Sturgis, Michigan.
The FDA said that it was looking into bacterial infections in four infants who drank the formula produced at that location. All four babies had to be hospitalized and the infection “may have contributed to the deaths of two patients,” according to the FDA.
The agency, which oversees food safety in the U.S., said the illnesses occurred from Sept. 6, 2021, to Jan. 4 in Minnesota, Ohio and Texas. The FDA has urged parents and caregivers not to use recalled Similac, Alimentum and EleCare powdered formulas that were manufactured at the Michigan facility.
Recent data suggests there’s no end in sight to America’s formula shortage. More than 40 percent of baby formula supplies were out of stock across the country in the week ending May 8, according to retail pricing data website Datasembly. “We don’t see this slowing down any time soon,” said the company’s CEO, Ben Reich.
The FDA released an update this week on steps it was taking to try to alleviate the shortage.
On Wednesday, Abbott said that, if it gets government approval, it could resume producing formula at the Michigan facility within two weeks. The company said it would then take another six to eight weeks before the product could be in stores.
House Republicans on Thursday blamed the Biden administration for the shortage, accusing officials of not taking enough action. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, their conference chair, said that the administration does not have a plan to address the crisis.
“As a new mother, I understand personally the severity of this challenge. My son Sam is nine months old. He is formula fed. And even in my trip to the grocery store in upstate New York, the shelves have been fairly empty,” Stefanik said at a GOP press conference. “Babies have been put to bed hungry while parents are desperately trying to find alternative formulas that are often difficult to procure. This is not a Third World country. This should never happen in the United States of America.”
Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., said the shortage is “purely due to the blatant incompetence in this White House and the Democrats,” who she said haven’t scheduled a hearing on the issue until the end of May.
Two House Republicans, Reps. Randy Feenstra of Iowa and Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma, introduced the Formula Act Wednesday, which would direct the FDA to establish and communicate clear standards to Congress about how it regulates baby formula. The two lawmakers noted that the U.S. doesn’t currently import infant formula from abroad and said the legislation would also allow the U.S. to safely import such products to expand domestic supply.