President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act Wednesday to address the critical national shortage of baby formula. The Korean War-era legislation gives the chief executive broad powers to direct the production and distribution of goods to crucial industries in times of crisis.
This latest action is one of over 50 times since 1950 that the act has been invoked for various emergencies. Both Presidents Trump and Biden used it in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The closure of a Michigan plant in February due to possible contamination resulted in a worsening shortage across the U.S. Shoppers find empty shelves when searching for baby formula, and though many believe the shortage is partially impacted by panic buying, the shelves are still empty.
“Operation Fly Formula,” is the name the White House gave to one part of the initiative. This authorizes the Defense Department to deploy commercial aircraft internationally to bring in baby formula that meets federal standards from other countries.
The White House says that this measure will bypass normal air freight routes and streamline the importation and distribution of critical baby products.
Part of the administration’s moves mandates suppliers fill orders related to the formula shortage before satisfying other customers. Exactly which industries fall under this order is not immediately clear.
Many social media posts implore parents to make homemade formulas, but pediatricians caution against this practice. Some recipes contain dangerous levels of sugar, most do not have sufficient nutrients, and experts warn they could even contain harmful bacteria.
Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis, Michigan, was shuttered voluntarily after four infants became ill with bacterial infections after being fed their products. Two of the infants died. Abbott denies that conclusive evidence exists that its products caused the illnesses and fatalities.
In a busy Monday for the manufacturer, Abbott reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration to reopen the plant — subject to a federal judge’s approval of the conditions. Also on Monday, the Justice Department filed a complaint against the company for tainted products.
The FDA announced this week that it is streamlining the process for approving foreign manufacturers to ship more formula to the U.S. For a product critical for millions, it is shocking that issues at a single facility result in a crisis needing a wartime emergency act to address.