FDA to ease baby formula import rules as Biden faces heat

FDA to ease baby formula import rules as Biden faces heat

The Food and Drug Administration will start clearing the way for imports of baby formula from overseas to address nationwide shortages, the White House said Thursday — after Republicans blasted President Biden for not doing more to address the crisis.

The precise FDA changes are unclear, but could have a significant impact since about 98% of US-consumed formula is produced domestically.

A White House fact sheet said that “the FDA will, in the coming days, announce specific new steps it is taking concerning importing certain infant formula products from abroad.”

A senior Biden administration official said on a White House-organized press call that they could not share additional information on the FDA plans.

Nursing mothers are becoming increasingly desperate in seeking out formula, including special blends. The shortage has hit some states especially hard and is linked to a large recall by Abbott Nutrition that began in February due to safety concerns at a Michigan factory. Two infant deaths are believed to be linked to contamination.

Empty baby formula shelves
The FDA announced it will relax import rules on baby formula amid a national shortage.
Helayne Seidman

Biden also is urging state officials and the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on price gouging and encouraging states to relax rules about the types of formula low-income parents can buy through the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, the White House said.

An administration official clarified on the press call that federal authorities have since February been working with states to relax WIC policies on formula purchases.

Also Thursday, biden held a call with formula sellers Target and Walmart and manufacturers Reckitt and Gerber after Republicans accused him of an inept response to the crisis.

The presidential call was closed to reporters. It was not on Biden’s daily schedule and was only announced after House Republicans assembled for a press conference to condemn his response.

“I cannot think of a more harrowing, panicked crisis for parents to face than desperately trying to find food for their newborn babies,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the No. 3 House Republican and mother of a baby boy.

Stefanik said her office first contacted the FDA about the issue in February and claimed that “we received no substantive response — Joe Biden simply has no plan.”

“My son Sam is nine months old. He is formula-fed and even in my trips to the grocery store in upstate New York, the shelves have been fairly empty,” she said. “There was an article just today about families having to drive hours.”

Stefanik added that “babies have been put to bed hungry” and argued that the White House “should have had a plan for the shortage months ago. Instead, bare-shelves Biden has continued to pass the buck.”

On the White House call, an official said that domestic US production has accelerated, despite not meeting demand.

“As a result of of our ongoing work, more infant formula has been produced in the last four weeks than in the four weeks that preceded the recall,” the official said.

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