WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is holding a roundtable discussion with baby formula manufacturers Wednesday as the administration tries to ramp up production and imports amid a shortage of the products.
The participants will include top executives from Gerber, Perrigo Co., Reckitt, Bubs Australia and ByHeart, a White House official said. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy are also expected to join the meeting.
Biden plans to discuss the steps the administration is taking to increase production through the Defense Production Act and to import formula from abroad, and the executives are expected to provide updates on their efforts to increase the supply of formula in the United States, the official said.
Last month, Biden announced steps his administration was taking to address the shortage of infant formula, which has gone on for months. He also invoked the Defense Production Act to boost supply, which has allowed the federal government to prioritize key ingredients for formula production and push suppliers to provide needed resources to formula manufacturers ahead of other customers ordering those goods.
The shortage, which started early in the Covid pandemic, was exacerbated in February when the Food and Drug Administration announced it was investigating consumer complaints about powdered baby formulas made by Abbott Nutrition at a facility in Sturgis, Michigan.
The FDA said it was looking into bacterial infections in four infants who drank the formula produced there. All four babies had to be hospitalized, and the infection “may have contributed to the deaths of two patients,” the FDA said.
Abbott, however, has maintained that it conducted a thorough review of the complaints and concluded that there was “no evidence” linking their baby formulas to the illnesses.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack plans to announce Wednesday that the federal government is devoting $2.1 billion in funding to strengthen the nation’s food supply system, which was negatively affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic, according to Reuters.
The department said it is providing the money for independent meat and poultry processing projects and to support jobs in the processing sector, as well as to farmers to transition to organic production and to support urban agriculture, such as community gardens in cities. It will also finance efforts to provide healthy food to underserved communities and to reduce and prevent food waste.
Jay Blackman contributed.