Biden announces plan to address baby formula shortage

Iowa politicians called for additional action

By: - May 12, 2022 5:26 pm

(Photo by Getty Images)

President Joe Biden announced several steps Thursday to address the nationwide baby formula shortage, but Iowa politicians of both parties said additional action is necessary.

Infant formula has been in short supply across the U.S. in recent months, the result of ongoing supply chain issues and a February recall from one major formula manufacturer. That recall, which came after four children developed bacterial infections, temporarily shut down an Abbott facility in Michigan. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not allowed the facility to reopen yet.

“I think it’s also important to note that the reason we’re here is because the FDA took a step to ensure that babies were taking safe formula,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. “There were babies who died from taking this formula, so they were doing their jobs.”

But with the Abbott shutdown, stock of formula has been dwindling. Retail data company Datasembly reported Tuesday that 43% of baby formula brands were out of stock in the first week of May — the highest rate of the shortage so far.

A White House news release Thursday identified three steps to “get infant formula onto store shelves as quickly as possible without compromising safety.” 

First, the Food and Drug Administration will consider new rules for importing baby formula. Usually, about 98% of formula in the U.S. is produced domestically, according to the White House.

“But given the production and distribution issues leading to local short supplies of infant formula, the FDA will, in the coming days, announce specific new steps it is taking concerning importing certain infant formula products from abroad,” the release reads.

While shortages continue, Biden has also instructed state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate “illegal and predatory conduct,” like price gouging. 

Biden’s plan also relies on state-level changes. States may allow more formulas to be purchased through the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. States are also encouraged to relax requirements that stores keep a certain amount of formula in stock, potentially freeing up some inventory for sale.

“We’re going to cut every element of red tape we can cut. We’re going to work with manufacturers. We’re going to import more to expedite this as quickly as possible,” Psaki told reporters Thursday.

The House also plans to convene a panel to discuss the shortage later this month.

‘Nothing is more critical’: Iowa politicians demand additional action

Iowa politicians called for additional action to address the shortage.

“The Biden Administration must address the national shortage of infant formula immediately, increasing production and expediting distribution to the states,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a Thursday news release from the Iowa Department of Public Health. “Parents need the assurance that they can provide the basic necessities for their family and nothing is more critical than infant formula.”

Rep. Randy Feenstra introduced a bill to require the FDA to establish “clear standards by which it regulates infant formula.” Then, those standards could be used to more easily import formula from other countries.

“Iowa families deserve to be able to easily buy infant formula at fair prices without worrying if the shelves are fully stocked,” Feenstra said. “This is a distressing problem, and I am committed to finding a solution.”

The bill has only one cosponsor so far, Oklahoma Republican Rep. Stephanie Bice. It’s unclear if Democrats, who hold the majority in the House and Senate, will pick up the legislation.

Sen. Chuck Grassley sent a letter to the FDA asking how the department plans to address the crisis, noting that a shortage of formula also affects people with feeding tubes.

“(I)t is imperative that Americans have access to food that infants and others need to survive. It is the utmost importance to our families across the country that a reliable supply of formula is reestablished immediately,” he wrote.

Rep. Ashley Hinson also wrote a letter to the FDA, demanding a timeline for when baby formula will be readily available again.

Abby Finkeanuer, a Democrat running for Grassley’s Senate seat, called on Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act, which would allow manufacturers to ramp up production of formula.

“When something like this happens where you’ve got parents across the country trying desperately to get the nutrients for their children that they need, and they can’t find it, that’s a national emergency and it needs to be addressed,” Finkenauer said.

Recommendations from Iowa Department of Public Health

The state’s public health department issued a press release Thursday with the following guidance for Iowans needing formula:

  • Do not use homemade infant formula.
  • Purchase only the formula you need for the near-term, rather than trying to stock up. “This will ensure that all Iowans are able to access what they need, given the limited supply we are seeing nationwide,” the release reads.
  • Families enrolled in WIC “may need to visit a different location than they are used to or use alternate brands.” Families that need assistance may contact a WIC clinic.

Jennifer Shutt contributed reporting.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.