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White House defends formula plant shutdown as it targets supplies for areas with ‘acute’ needs

Shutting down the Michigan plant at the center of the nation’s baby formula crisis was a “prudent thing to do,” a White House economic adviser said Sunday — as international shipments of formula that arrived in Indiana were set to go to areas with an “acute” need.

National Economic Council Director Brian Deese was pressed on the Sunday news shows over how the administration found itself so unprepared for the formula shortage, despite an October whistleblower report about safety issues at the Abbott plant in Sturgis.

The Food and Drug Administration shut down the plant in February after a number of babies were sickened by formula made there.

“The FDA did what it was supposed to do, which was assess safety and shutdown a facility in the United States,” Deese said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“And that was a prudent thing to do because of safety. We’re dealing with infants and babies here. Safety has to be paramount.”

Meanwhile, a Biden administration official said that the first load of Switzerland-made baby formula would be distributed to hospitals, doctors, home health-care facilities and pharmacies “where the needs are most acute,” CNN reported Sunday. 

President Biden has said that “only mind-readers” could have predicted the shortage.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

The official, who was in Indianapolis to welcome the shipment from the US airbase in Ramstein, Germany, said the formula that was made in Zurich, Switzerland, is hypoallergenic and will be used to feed babies intolerant of protein in cow’s milk, the outlet reported. 

A Nestlé spokesperson at the Indianapolis airport said, “Some cases are ready for distribution in the next couple of days. Others will be released into the supply chain after standard quality testing is completed.”

The cargo is the first due to arrive in the US this week as part of the Biden administration’s “Operation Fly Formula.”

airmen load pallets with baby formula which arrived by three trucks from Switzerland for the United States at Ramstein American Air Force base on May 21, 2022 in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany
The FDA shut down the plant in February after a number of babies were sickened by formula made there.
Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

The president invoked the Defense Production Act last Wednesday after his administration came under intense scrutiny for failing to prepare for the shortage — and as stories emerged about panicked parents with hungry children facing barren shelves at shops. Some have had to drive for hours in their desperate search for formula.

Biden has said that “only mind-readers” could have predicted the shortage.

Fox News host Martha MacCallum grilled Deese on the debacle Sunday.

View of almost empty baby formula shelves at a Duane Reade in New York City, USA on Wednesday, May 11, 2022
New York City Mayor Eric Adams issued a state of emergency related to the formula shortage to prevent price gouging.
© John Nacion/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

“How did we get to a point where the United States of America is relying on Switzerland to feed our babies?” she asked.

“It’s the right question. In the very immediate term, we need to do everything we can to get formula out to the families and the babies that need it,” Deese said, noting Biden’s authorizing the emergency measure.

He went on to blame the concentration of the baby formula industry in four companies and how supply chain problems since the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the situation. Abbott is the biggest US supplier of powder infant formula including Similac.

airmen load pallets with baby formula which arrived by three trucks from Switzerland for the United States at Ramstein American Air Force base on May 21, 2022 in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany.
US airmen load pallets with baby formula that arrived by three trucks from Switzerland at Ramstein American Air Force base on May 21, 2022 in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany.
Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images
U.S. airmen load pallets with baby formula arrived with three trucks from Switzerland for the United States at Ramstein American Air Force base on May 21, 2022 in Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany.
The cargo is the first due to arrive in the US this week as part of the Biden administration’s “Operation Fly Formula.”
Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

He called for more competition and antitrust enforcement in the baby formula industry and others involved in the supply chain. 

“We see this in meat packing, for example, where we have too few companies controlling too much of the supply chain and that creates real risks for consumers,” he said. 

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Eric Adams issued a state of emergency related to the shortage to prevent price gouging.

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