Biden belatedly invokes Defense Production Act for baby formula

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

The Biden administration’s initial response to the baby formula shortage was so toothless and late in coming that even CNN was forced to admit that it was basically useless. That reality seems to have finally sunk in at the White House this week and last night the President invoked the Defense Production Act to get producers more quickly back up to full speed. He also authorized an airlift operation to bring more formula into the country from abroad. Will that be enough? It will eventually, so be sure, but doing so back in February (if not even sooner) would have avoided this crisis entirely. (NY Post)

President Biden agreed Wednesday to invoke the Defense Production Act to ensure that US baby formula producers can acquire the material they need and launched a new US government airlift of formula from abroad.

The dramatic actions come after critics slammed Biden for not acting more quickly to avert empty store shelves across the country linked to the closure in February of an Abbott Nutrition factory in Michigan.

Biden resisted for about a week mounting pressure from Congress — including from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — to use the 1950 law that allows federal interventions in private business decisions.

Biden had been hearing about this from both sides of the aisle recently. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York teamed up with Marco Rubio to pressure Biden into taking some action. Those two have been getting along pretty well lately in some rare moments of bipartisanship in Washington. First, they joined forces to create the new Pentagon UFO investigatory office and now they’re trying to end the baby formula crisis together.

Even if he wasn’t paying that much attention to the supply chain issues involved with this shortage, surely someone on Biden’s team has pointed out the horrible political optics being generated by these headlines. If there is a worse group of people in the United States to tick off during an election season than young mothers with infant children, I’m hard-pressed to think of one.

When Abbot’s main production facility in Michigan began having issues, the government could have immediately begun taking action even before the plant went down entirely in February. Abbot accounts for roughly half of all of the baby formula made in the United States, with Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestlé USA, and Perrigo producing the rest. We didn’t have any established overseas supply chains because 98% of the baby formula consumed in America is produced domestically. Or at least it was until February.

What remains unclear is where all of this overseas baby formula will come from. There are reportedly some supplies available in Ireland, but they aren’t sitting on a limitless supply. Just as it is in the United States, these manufacturers tend to anticipate how much of the product will be ordered and produce that amount. Also, all food products have to be inspected and approved for import to ensure they meet FDA safety standards. That can happen fairly quickly if the administration prioritizes the project, so here’s to hoping that someone on Biden’s team already thought of that. (Fingers crossed.)

The Abbott plant is already mostly back on line and they’re waiting for deliveries of their component products to reach full production levels. Once that’s done and the lines are rolling, trucks will need to be located to ship the products all across the country. So those empty shelves aren’t going to be refilled overnight, unfortunately.