Abbott’s manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan on May 13, 2022.
Jeff Kowalsky | AFP | Getty Images
President Joe Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to increase manufacturing of infant formula to alleviate a national shortage caused by the closure of a key factory in Michigan.
Biden is requiring suppliers to direct ingredients used in infant formula to major manufacturers before any other customers who may have placed orders for those same products. It was not immediately clear which major vendors are subject to the order.
The Defense Production Act gives the president broad authority to require companies to prioritize the production and allocation of goods in response to a crisis. The law was passed in 1950 during the Korean War.
Biden also ordered the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture to use Department of Defense aircraft to pick up infant formula from overseas that meets U.S. health and safety standards. .
Parents across the country have struggled to find formula for their infants since Abbott Nutrition closed its factory in Sturgis, Michigan, due to bacterial contamination. Abbott issued a recall in February of brands of powdered formula made at the factory after four infants who consumed products made there fell ill with bacterial infections, two of whom died.
The Justice Department, in a lawsuit filed Monday, said Abbott introduced adulterated infant formula into the consumer market. Abbott argues that there is “no conclusive evidence” that his formula caused illness and death in infants.
Abbott on Monday reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to reopen the plant under terms enforceable by a federal court. These conditions include hiring independent experts to ensure the plant meets US food safety standards.
Abbott said it would take about two weeks to reopen the Michigan facility, pending FDA approval, and up to eight weeks for the products to hit stories across the country.
The United States produces 98% of the formula that American parents buy. Four manufacturers – Abbott, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Nestlé USA and Perrigo – dominate the market. When a factory goes offline, the supply chain is easily disrupted.
The FDA is increasing imports of infant formula from other countries to help ease the shortage. To sell formula in the United States, companies must submit an application to the FDA, which the agency will review to ensure it is safe and provides adequate nutrition.
However, Democratic lawmakers said this week that the FDA does not have enough inspectors to ensure the safety of imported preparations. Representative Rosa DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said the FDA told her it only had nine inspectors to oversee infant formula manufacturers.
DeLauro introduced legislation this week that would provide the FDA with $28 million in emergency funding to bolster inspections, more closely monitor the supply chain and root out fraud.