Infant formula crisis in US

Almost empty baby formula shelves at a Duane Reade store in New York City. Photo: John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx Photo by John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx

United States President Joe Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to speed production of infant formula and has authorised flights to import supply from overseas, as he faces mounting political pressure over a US shortage caused by the safety-related closure of the country’s largest formula manufacturing plant.

The Defense Production Act order requires suppliers of formula manufacturers to fulfil those orders before other customers.

Mr Biden is also authorising the Defense Department to use commercial aircraft to fly overseas formula supplies that meet federal standards to the US, in what the White House is calling ‘Operation Fly Formula’.

Supplies of baby formula across the country have been severely curtailed after a February recall by Abbott Nutrition exacerbated ongoing supply chain disruptions among formula makers, leaving fewer options on store shelves and increasingly anxious parents struggling to find nutrition for their children.

The announcement comes two days after the Food and Drug Administration said it was streamlining its review process to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to begin shipping more formula into the US.

Regulators also said on May 16 they had reached a deal to allow Abbott Nutrition to restart its plant in Sturgis, Michigan — the nation's largest formula plant — which has been closed since February due to contamination issues.

The company must overhaul its safety protocols and procedures before resuming production.

After getting the FDA's okay, Abbott said it would take eight to 10 weeks before new products began arriving in stores. The company did not set a timeline to restart manufacturing.

The White House actions came as the Democratic-led House of Representatives was expected to approve two bills addressing the shortage, as lawmakers look to show progress on what has become a frightening development for many families.

Abbott's voluntary recall was triggered by four illnesses reported in babies who had consumed powdered formula from its plant. All four infants were hospitalised with a rare type of bacterial infection and two died.