White House goes on defense on baby formula shortage

The White House was on the defense on Friday over its reaction to the shortage in baby formula, emphasizing that it quickly took action on the issue.

“We have not waited to take action,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters when asked why steps weren’t taken until the situation was in the limelight. 

She said the administration had expanded flexibility in a key program for the poor, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and had taken steps after Abbott Nutrition recalled products in February.

When asked if there was more they could have done sooner, Psaki said, “Well look, hindsight is always 20-20.”

“But I would say, what’s important to note, is as much as this hasn’t been reported on, because people were not seeing shortages at the stores as much, there was an announced recall back in February and there were steps we have been taking every single day since then, with the [Food and Drug Administration] in the lead, to help address any potential shortage,” Psaki said.

Psaki on Friday gave the administration credit for Gerber’s production increase of 50 percent and Reckitt’s production increase of 30 percent, saying it wouldn’t be happening “had we not been working on this since the beginning.”

She did not offer a ballpark window for how many weeks or months the White House expects it will take for baby formula to be plentiful at big box retail stores.

“As quickly as possible is our objective … but it’s going to be different store to store,” said Psaki, who was attending her final briefing as White House press secretary.

The White House has suggested parents call their pediatricians when pressed this week on what to do should do if they can’t find formula.

The Biden administration came under political fire over the situation just recently, although the shortage has been ongoing and formula supply has been spotty for months because of supply chain pressures and labor shortages.

The White House just launched a website to answer people’s questions about the shortage, and Psaki said that was in response to a need they saw over the last 24 hours.

“Prior to that period of time, we had not seen obviously what we’ve seen over the last few of days,” she said.

Psaki also reiterated that the White House has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate any price gouging in the infant formula market. 

President Biden penned a letter to Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Lina Khan on Thursday, asking the independent agency to “consider using all of its available tools and authorities to actively monitor the infant formula market and address any illegal conduct that may be contributing to scarcity and hoarding as well as study whether rural or smaller retailers are being put at a disadvantage.”  

And Psaki added that the administration has been pressing retailers to institute caps on the amount of formula that people can order to prevent hoarding. 

The use of the Defense Production Act has been on the table, which is a law that gives the president broad authority to increase the manufacturing output of critical items in a national emergency.

But, while Psaki reiterated on Friday that the Defense Production Act is being considered, she suggested it isn’t the best option for this situation.

“The production of baby formula is so specialized and so specific that you can’t just use the Defense Production Act to say to a company that produces something else, produce baby formula. It just doesn’t work that way exactly,” she said.

Morgan Chalfant contributed.

Tags Baby formula shortage Biden Defense Production Act Jen Psaki Jen Psaki supply chain issues

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