The Biden administration on Wednesday announced two more emergency shipments of baby formula to the United States, as the president also met virtually with baby formula manufacturers to receive an update on how companies are working to ramp up production.

What You Need To Know

  • The Biden administration on Wednesday announced two more emergency shipments of baby formula to the United States, amounting to the equivalent of more than eight million bouttles

  • President Biden on Wednesday met with U.S. health officials and manufacturers to receive an update on their own efforts

  • The president answered questions about why he did not know about the shortage or act sooner, since manufacturers told him they were aware of the looming issue

  • A top official at Reckitt, the second-largest formula manufacturer, said they have increased productioon by 30% and the speed of distribution by 40% since the beginning of the year

While shelves remain scarce in many areas of the country, President Joe Biden has pushed his administration to mobilize a supply of baby formula from domestic factories and overseas, as U.S. health officials work to get a Michigan Abbott factory back online after a recall there put a dent in the company's 40% formula market share. Abbott was not at the White House meeting.

Reporters also pressed the president about why his administration did not know about the growing formula shortage or act before April, since Abbott's factory closed in February and a senior vice president for Reckitt on Wednesday said he was aware of the issue back then.

“I don't think anyone anticipated the impact of the shutdown of one facility," he said. "Once we learned the extent of it and how broad it was, it kicked everything into gear.” 

When pushed about why manufacturers knew earlier on, Biden responded: “They did. But I didn’t.”

The third and fourth Operation Fly Formula shipments announced Wednesday will deliver in total 680,000 more pounds of formula, which amounts to more than eight million 8-ounce bottles.

One will come from the United Kingdom and carry the equivalent of about 3.7 million 8-ounce bottles. They will begin shipping on June 9 and reach multiple airports over the course of three weeks. Parents will be able to find Kendamil Classic and Kendamil Organic formula at Target stores around the U.S., the White House said.

The other, also starting on June 9, will come from Bubs Australia and fly from Melbourne to Pennsylvania and California. The Department of Health and Human Services will coordinate the flights, which will carry enough formula for about 4.6 million bottles.

Both of the shipments were made possible after the Food and Drug Administration recently allowed flexibilities in its import rules due to the ongoing shortage.

Under this effort, the administration has so far used Department of Defense-contracted planes to import the equivalent of about 1.5 million bottles of formula. The first shipment landed in Indiana and the second in Virginia.

Meanwhile, amid the ongoing formula shortage, President Biden on Wednesday met with U.S. health officials and manufacturers to receive an update on their own efforts to ramp up production.

"There's nothing more stressful than the feeling you can't get what your child needs, he or she needs. And that's why I've directed my administration use every tool available to increase the supply," the president said. 

A senior vice president at Reckitt, the second-largest baby formula manufacturer, told Biden that his company has increased the amount of formula they produce by 30% and increased distribution speed by 40 percent.

"Our plants are running 24/7," Robert Cleveland said. "We've ... prioritized our retail partners like Walmart, Target and Kroger, such that our trucks are unloaded first and feedings get to shelf faster. It's not just about more. It's about how much more we can put in shelf."

Cleveland said Reckitt has applied to import formula from its Singapore and Mexico factories as well, which he said could help feed an additional 250,000 infants.

The leaders of ByHeart, Bubs Australia, Reckitt, Perrigo Company and Gerber joined the president, along with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Becerra announced that his department has also now launched an online portal for parents to help track down formula locally, such as at community centers or food banks:

Abbott, who did not have a representative at the meeting, has predicted its factory will reopen next week, but it will take six to eight weeks for products to reach shelves. Under a consent decree, they have been working with the FDA to make safety improvements to their facility, after a whistleblower reported unsanitary conditions that led to an investigation and eventually the recall.

Gerber's CEO, Tarun Malkani, told President Biden that his company has boosted supply by 60 percent. He also reported that 40% of the Gerber cans that arrived on a DOD flight last Wednesday have now made it to shelves, hospitals and other areas of need.

As part of the federal efforts, President Biden has also permitted HHS use of the Defense Production Act in an attempt to speed up formula production by allowing companies to get first in line to order the ingredients they need, potentially avoiding bottlenecks.