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Commerce secretary says she ‘probably’ didn’t learn of baby formula shortage until April

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo addresses reporters after a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting where they discussed the America COMPETES Act regarding supply chain and semiconductor shortages on Wednesday, February 2, 2022.
Greg Nash

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Sunday that the Biden administration has taken “extraordinary” measures to combat the ongoing baby formula shortage, but when pressed said she “probably” didn’t learn about the crisis until April.

“I first learned about it a couple of months ago,” Raimondo told CNN “State of the Union” co-anchor Jake Tapper.

But when Tapper followed up by asking if she had first learned about it in April — the same time President Biden recently revealed he learned about the severity of the crisis — Raimondo said, “probably.”

“I’m not involved in the administration’s response here, I should say,” Raimondo said. “But I think they’re doing a very good job. As soon as they learned that this could be a severe shortage, they got on top of it.”

The shortage was sparked after a manufacturing plant in Michigan operated by Abbott Nutrition was shut down in mid-February following a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspection that found unsanitary conditions and multiple strains of a bacteria that can be deadly to infants. 

At the same time, the company issued a nationwide recall for all brands of powdered formula that had been manufactured at the facility. 

Despite Biden’s admission that he hadn’t learned about the extent of the crisis more than a month later in early April, White House officials have insisted they have been working around the clock since February to address the issue.

Abbott said on Saturday it has restarted production at the Michigan factory, although it is expected to take weeks for the new inventory to reach consumers.

“My heart goes out to moms and dads trying to get formula who can’t have it,” Raimondo said on CNN. “But at the end of the day, the worst outcome would be if the FDA hadn’t shut it down and kids got sick. “

The Biden administration has looked to increase supply in the short-term by shipping millions of infant formula bottles from overseas, including through military support and partnerships with commercial airlines.

The administration also waived some requirements for truck drivers carrying baby formula ingredients and packaging and invoked the Defense Production Act to prioritize the production of formula.

“[The] president’s taking extraordinary measures to have baby formula flown in,” Raimondo said on Sunday. “And they will stick with this until it’s back to normal.”

Tags baby formula shortage Biden CNN Gina Raimondo Gina Raimondo Jake Tapper

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