The Biden administration announced measures on Thursday to ease shortages of infant formula that include increasing imports and cracking down on price gouging.
These actions come after a nationwide shortage of baby formula was further exacerbated in the last several weeks, causing strain to families, especially among those reliant on specialty formula.
White House Press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration has been working with the federal government for months to address the shortage and “to ensure that that infant formula is safe and available for families across the country”.
Abbott Nutrition, the largest manufacturer of infant formula in the nation, initiated a voluntary recall of several lines of powdered formula on Feb. 17 due to concerns about bacterial contamination at a Michigan. The recall was announced after four infants fell ill and two died.
Abbott's Sturgis, Michigan site is currently offline until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows it to restart.
According to Psaki, hoarding of supply has further exacerbated the formula crisis. According to the White House, there have been several reports of consumers purchasing formula at retail stores and reselling it online at a markup several times the retail price, especially specialty brands.
“Our message to parents is: We hear you, we want to do everything we can, and we’re going to cut every element of red tape to help address this and make it better for you to get formula on the shelves,” Psaki said during a press briefing.
Psaki said the White House is exploring every option to increase the production of baby formula, including using the Defense Production Act, which allows the government more control during emergencies to direct industrial production.
A new report from Datasembly, a real-time data tracking agency that estimates product availability, shows U.S. grocery store shelves had less infant formula last week than they had the week before.
Biden spoke with retailers and manufacturers on Thursday, including Wal-Mart, Target, Reckitt, and Gerber, to discuss the shortage and how they can work to get families more access to infant formula.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture urges states to allow WIC recipients to use their WIC benefits on a wider variety of products, so if certain sizes or types of formula are out of stock, they can use their benefits on those that are in stock. According to a White House statement, about half of infant formula nationwide is purchased by participants using WIC benefits.
The agency will also urge states to relax their requirements that stores keep a certain amount of formula in stock to offer relief to retailers and allow companies to manage inventories to meet demand.
To address the price gouging, the FDA worked with companies to establish purchasing limits to help curb predatory behavior. Additionally, the Department of Justice is engaging state attorneys general to monitor, and devote more resources to address price gouging in the infant formula market.
Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission will use available tools to monitor and investigate these reports.
Psaki said individuals can visit HHS.gov/formula for "resources and places that parents can go to obtain the formula, including contacts with companies, food banks (and) health care providers".