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Baby formula execs tell Biden they knew Abbott closure would cause 'serious' shortage

Multiple baby food manufacturers told President Joe Biden on Wednesday that they knew the closure of the Abbott plant in February would lead to shortages and that they warned the FDA.

Their comments raise questions about why Biden and his administration have not acted faster to produce more formulas and get them on store shelves. The closure led to bare supermarket shelves, a sharp rise in formula prices and hectic parents worried about feeding their children.

Biden defended his administration’s response, saying that when they knew how bad the problem was, they “put everything into gear.”

“I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the impact of one facility,” the president said, referring to the closure of the Abbott plant in Michigan, a major infant formula maker.

“Once we heard its size and how wide it was, we kicked everything into gear. And I think we are on track to fully resolve the issue,” he said in response to questions from reporters.

But when asked why the government hasn’t taken action sooner, given the warnings from the executives, Biden said he knew nothing about it.

“They did it, but I didn’t,” he said. He revealed that he first learned of the matter in April.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre didn’t answer repeated questions about when the president received a shortage report and why he said he learned of the crisis in April, but the manufacturers said they knew from the start of the shutdown. the Abbott factory.

“I just don’t have that, the time frame to share,” she said.

“The president has multiple problems, crises right now,” she noted. “So that’s number one to remember. But most importantly, we as the White House, in conjunction with the inter-agencies, have been working on this from day one, since the recall. And this is his White House,” she said.

She struggled to explain the White House timeline on how to handle the crisis, when the president was told about it, who decided to tell the president, and what she meant when she said there was a response from “all over the world” from the beginning. government’.

Instead, she repeated the topics of conversation and repeated all the forumla produced and imported now that the shortage is on the front pages.

Speaking to formula makers to discuss how they were ramping up production and distribution, multiple executives told Biden they saw the shortages coming in February — and issued appropriate warnings.

Robert Cleveland, an executive at Reckitt, told Biden that his company anticipated the impact the Abbott formula recall in February would have and they immediately contacted retailers.

“We knew from the start that this was going to be a very serious event,” he said at the zoo meeting. ‘We were aware of the overall impact this would have.’

He said they advised retailers like Target and Walmart to order more formulas and push everything in inventory onto the shelves.

Multiple baby food manufacturers told President Joe Biden they knew the closure of the Abbott plant in February would lead to shortages

Multiple baby food manufacturers told President Joe Biden they knew the closure of the Abbott plant in February would lead to shortages

President Biden met leaders of baby food manufacturers ByHeart, Bubs Australia, Reckitt, Perrigo Co.  and Gerber

President Biden met leaders of baby food manufacturers ByHeart, Bubs Australia, Reckitt, Perrigo Co. and Gerber

Biden with Murray Kessler, CEO of Perrigo Company

Biden with Robert Cleveland, an executive at Reckitt

Murray Kessler, CEO of Perrigo Company (left) and Robert Cleveland, an executive at Reckitt (right) both told President Biden they anticipated the formula shortage

And Murray Kessler, CEO of Perrigo Company, which produces generic formulas, said they knew there would be a “shortage.”

“The very first thing we did when we heard of Abbott’s recall was to foresee that it would cause a massive shortage,” Kessler said.

He said they had alerted the Food and Drug Administration.

“We immediately began communicating with the FDA, working closely with the FDA, our retail customers and other stakeholders to identify and prioritize what was most critical,” he said.

There were no Abbott representatives at the meeting, although the closure of the plant and its impact on the infant formula market was a major topic of discussion.

Instead, Biden met on Wednesday with leaders of baby food manufacturers ByHeart, Bubs Australia, Reckitt, Perrigo Co. and Gerber at the White House.

Heath and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy were also in attendance.

Last month, Biden shook off questions that his administration should have intervened sooner. “If we had been better mind readers, I think we could have done that,” he said.

The government did not invoke the Defense Production Act and the Operation Fly Formula until May.

Jean-Pierre described the president as “frustrated.”

“The president himself is frustrated with the situation,” she said. “And he’s frustrated on behalf of American families.”

She couldn’t say when the White House was notified of the shortfall and spent nearly 30 minutes of her daily press conference defending the administration’s response.

‘I don’t have the timeline for that. All I can tell you as a whole about the government’s approach is that we’ve been working on this since the recall in February,” she said.

She said Abbott was not invited to the meeting because they were in the process of getting their Michigan plant back online after the FDA closed it due to contaminated formula.

The administration has emphasized the security aspect of the issue.

Jean-Pierre also said “yes” the president was “satisfied” with the FDA’s response to the shortage.

News of the executives’ warnings came as… baby food shortages are getting worse in the United States, especially in the south and among the poor.

Minorities and lower-income families have been hit hardest by the crisis, sparked when Abbott Nutrition had to close its Michigan plant due to safety concerns.

New data shows that nationwide 23% of powdered baby food was out of stock in the week ending May 22, compared to 21% in the previous week. Wall Street Journal reported, citing figures from the market research firm IRI.

Prior to the Abbott formula recall, 11% of powdered baby food was out of stock due to covid pandemic-related supply chain shortages and inflation. Before the pandemic, the normal sell-out range for powdered formula was 5% to 7%, according to IRI.

Kansas, Georgia, Texas, Montana and Tennessee are among the states with the largest deficits.

In addition, families dependent on funds from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, have also been hit hard.

The administration has not been able to say exactly when more formula will be available.

But the White House did announce a third shipment of Operation Fly Formula – this time with Kendamil infant formula from the UK to the US. Shipments begin on June 9 and will include 3.2 million 8-ounce bottle equivalents of Kendamil Classic Stage 1 and 540,000 8. -ounce bottle equivalents of Kendamil Organic.

United Airlines has agreed to carry the Kendamil formula for free. The formula will hit Target’s shelves “within weeks” of arriving in the United States.

The administration also announced a fourth flight – this time with formula from Australia.

Bubs Australia’s 380,000 pounds of infant formula, approximately 4.6 million 8-ounce bottles, will arrive in Pennsylvania and California on June 9 and 11, respectively.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre failed to answer repeated questions about why Biden was not immediately warned

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre failed to answer repeated questions about why Biden was not immediately warned

President Joe Biden faces pressure as US baby food shortage widens: New data shows 23% of powdered baby food was out of stock nationwide

President Joe Biden faces pressure as US baby food shortage widens: New data shows 23% of powdered baby food was out of stock nationwide

Baby food arrives from Europe as part of Operation Fly Formula

Baby food arrives from Europe as part of Operation Fly Formula

Abbott officials have said they expect to restart the factory on June 4 and ship the new formula to stores about three weeks later.

Nearly 98% of baby food is produced domestically. Four companies account for about 90% of the market: Abbott, Reckitt, Nestle and Perrigo.

The Biden government announced last week that it is bringing in enough baby food from Australia to fill 27.5 million full-size 8-ounce bottles.

“Bubs Australia plans to supply at least 1.25 million cans of different variants of its infant formula,” the FDA said.

Some of the product is already in stock and more is in production, the agency noted.

Two shipments of formula have already arrived from Europe as part of Biden’s Operation Fly Formula. They brought a total of 1.5 million 8 ounce bottles.

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