WASHINGTON — Government officials on Thursday struggled to explain how President Biden’s decision to invoke a Cold War statute will help alleviate the baby food shortage, leaving desperate parents looking for ways to protect their baby. to feed babies.

On Wednesday, Biden authorized the use of the Defense Production Act in an effort to ensure formula manufacturers had access to the ingredients and materials they need to ramp up production. Shortages arose after Abbott Laboratories, which controls 48 percent of the baby food market, voluntarily recalled some of its most popular products in February and closed a factory in Sturgis, Michigan, amid concerns about potential contamination.

But a senior government official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity on Thursday, declined to say whether formula companies reported having trouble getting ingredients or materials on time.

In response to numerous questions about the potential impact of the president’s decision, the official repeatedly said the administration was “having active and ongoing discussions with the companies” but declined to say what the companies had asked for or even whether the companies had any problems. identified that were needed. government assistance.

The official also couldn’t answer how much faster the government thought the formula would reach consumers by invoking the Defense Production Act. And the official declined to answer when asked why Mr. Biden did not authorize the use of the law weeks or even months ago, when the shortages started after the factory shut down.

The official said only that the government had “be clear from the outset that we will pull every lever we can find when we need to deploy a lever” and added that invoking the Defense Production Act “builds on” previous actions that the administration has taken.

In a statement, Abbott Laboratories said the law “can be an effective tool for prioritizing raw materials and ensuring the supply of specialized components.”

“We already deliver infant formula by air from our FDA-registered facility in Ireland and welcome any support these additional measures can provide in reducing bureaucracy, increasing import volume and speeding up transportation time from overseas to the US,” the company said.

Mr. Biden’s White House has accelerated its response to the baby food shortage in recent days as media reports of its impact on families have increased. This week there have been several reports of small children and babies being taken to hospitals because their parents couldn’t find the specialized baby food they needed.

In a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday, Mr Biden said: “I know parents across the country are concerned about finding enough infant formula to feed their babies. As a parent and as a grandparent, I know how stressful that is. .”

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration announced it would relax guidelines on baby food imports from other countries in an effort to replenish shelves in the United States. On Wednesday, Biden also announced a plan to use aircraft contracted by the Defense Department to accelerate formula imports.

A second administration official said on Thursday that companies with a formula to ship to the United States could use the Defense Department’s planes after “some negotiation”. The formula would be flown to the companies’ locations in the United States, where it would be inspected by the FDA before being distributed to retail locations across the country.

The first administration official said the White House was “actively talking and discussing with manufacturers where there might be cargo in the world that would be suitable for that proceeding.” The official declined to reveal which companies the administration was in talks with.

The Defense Production Act was created to empower the government to ensure the flow of weapons in wartime.

But during the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald J. Trump appealed to accelerate the production of personal protective equipment for hospital staff and the production of vaccines and other drugs to fight Covid-19. Earlier this year, Mr. Biden invoked the law to increase domestic production of essential minerals and metals needed for technologies such as electric vehicles.

Several congressional Democrats on Wednesday praised the president for taking action and said the government should do everything possible to fix the deficits. However, some Republicans criticized the government for abusing the law.

“It appears that the government does not use the word ‘defense’ in the Defense Production Act,” Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey said in a statement. He accused Mr Biden of “abusing the DPA statute any time there is a temporary product shortage.”

Using the Defense Production Act can create disruptions in supply chains that spread across the country, making it a solution that officials often say should be a last resort. But when he invoked the law on Wednesday, Mr Biden said it was an essential step.

“Adequate supply of infant formula is critical to the health and safety of the millions of children who depend on essential nutrition formula,” he said in the official memorandum authorizing the use of the law. “The federal government has worked in recent months to address the infant formula shortage, but additional measures are needed to ensure an adequate supply of infant formula in the United States and thereby the health and well-being of our nation’s children. to protect. †

Ana Swanson reporting contributed.

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