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Biden administration ‘cutting red tape’ to ease baby formula shortage

Biden administration ‘cutting red tape’ to ease baby formula shortage
‘We recognise that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country’

President Joe Biden is directing federal agencies to take actions towards easing the baby formula shortages that have left many store shelves bare in the wake of a manufacturing shutdown and recall from the nation’s largest formula maker.

“We have been working on this issue since since the very beginning in the days leading up to to the recall,” said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the actions late Thursday. “We absolutely recognise the frustration that American families are feeling right now, and that’s why the President has acted to direct the administration to pull additional levers and take additional action to make more supply available as quickly as possible”.

In February, Abbott Nutrition announced a recall of formula made at its Sturgis, Michigan manufacturing facility after four infants became sick and two died from drinking contaminated formula which had originated there.

Since then, formula has been hard to come by in many communities, as retailer warehouse stocks were recalled but not replaced.

But a senior White House official who briefed reporters on actions Mr Biden has taken to ease the shortage said other manufacturers have stepped up by increasing their output.

The official said more formula has been manufactured in the last four weeks than in the same period immediately prior to the recall.

They also said Mr Biden has spoken with representatives from major formula retailers and manufacturers — including Wal-Mart, Target, Reckitt, and Gerber — regarding how the manufacturers and his administration can “work together to do more to help families access infant formula”.

Specifically, Mr Biden has directed the US Department of Agriculture to work with states to relax rules manufacturers must follow for their products to be eligible to be purchased as part of the USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, otherwise known as WIC.

“There are in normal time, significant rules about what product families can purchase, and there are also rules about how suppliers that participate in the WIC program have to maintain stock of particular supplies in order to participate in WIC,” the official said. “USDA has been working since February with states to relax those rules and make it easier for families to substitute products, and for suppliers and and retailers to more flexibly participate in the WIC program”.

“USDA will be urging all states to take up that to take up those flexibilities and really alleviate burdens across the supply chain that can make it difficult for families and retailers,” the official said.

Asked for an example, the official said states can relax requirements which say only certain sizes of containers are eligible to be purchased under WIC. They added that allowing manufacturers to produce larger containers will allow more formula to get on shelves faster.

Additionally, Mr Biden is calling on the Justice Department to help crack down on hoarding and price gauging by engaging with state attorneys general to encourage them to monitor prices to prevent predatory pricing, and has asked the Federal Trade Commission to “ use all its available tools to monitor and investigate reports of illegal and predatory conduct”.

Speaking at the daily White House press briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration “would continue to monitor” the formula shortage situation and “identify other ways” to “support the safe and rapid increase in production and distribution of baby formula”.

She added that Mr Biden would “continue to use every tool we have” to ease the shortages.

“We recognise that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country, it’s something the President is very focused on, and we’re going to do everything we can to cut red tape and take steps to increase supply on the marketplace,” she said. “Obviously the steps the President took today are an acknowledgment and a recognition that more needs to be done, that we do not want parents, mothers, families out there to be stressed and worried about feeding their babies”.