‘Babies died’: Jen Psaki DEFENDS the government’s closure of Abbott plant

‘Babies died’: Jen Psaki DEFENDS the government’s closure of Abbott plant

The White House on Thursday defended the closure of the Abbott plant that resulted in a shortage of baby formula but officials couldn’t say when parents will see more products on the empty grocery store shelves.

‘The reason we’re here is because the FDA took a step to ensure that babies were taking safe formula. There were babies who died from taking this formula so they were doing their jobs,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at her daily press briefing.

President Joe Biden got personally involved on Thursday when he met with executives from infant formula manufactures and retailers including Target, Walmart and Nestle’s Gerber to discuss the issue.

And his administration announced additional steps it was taking to boost the production of baby formula.

But officials were short on specifics. They couldn’t say when the Abbott plant would reopen, they couldn’t say when more baby formula would be back on shelves and Psaki couldn’t offer any options when asked who parents can call for help.

The administration did acknowledge the frustration.

‘We absolutely recognize the frustration of parents and family,’ a senior administration official said on a briefing call with reporters but added: ‘I don’t have a particular timeline for you’ when asked when parents would see some relief.

The officials also didn’t know when Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis, Michigan, plant – one of the largest producers of formula – would be back online.

‘We do not today have an estimate for accessibility will come on line. But as we just said that the administration is working around the clock to do everything we can to to bring as much production to market,’ the official said.

Among the steps the administration announced was cutting red tape when it comes to the size of the formula.

‘We recognize that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country, something the President is very focused on and we’re going to do everything we can to cut red tape and and take steps to increase supply on the marketplace,’ Psaki said.

Manufacturers typically make multiple sized containers of the product and government programs like WIC often limit what size can be purchased. The administration is working to change those limits to ease the burden on manufactuers and let them rush out one size.

Officials also said the administration would work to increase the imports of baby formula but would have more details available on that at a later date.

And the administration is calling on state attorneys general to crack down on price gouging. Formula has been going for up to $120 a can as desperate parents try to feed their children.

Republican Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida have called on the administration to use the Defense Production Act to get more formula produced.

The White House did not rule it out.

‘We’re gonna keep every option on the table,’ the senior administration official said.

Psaki also said it was an option.

‘You have to ensure that it would actually achieve what you’re trying to achieve,’ she said of using it.

The shortages have been worsening since February 17 when, after the death of two infants, manufacturer Abbott announced a ‘voluntary recall’ for formula made at its factory in Michigan — including Similac, a brand used by millions of American families.

A subsequent investigation cleared the formula, but production has yet to resume, exacerbating already ongoing scarcity caused by supply chain problems and labor shortages.

Abbott said that pending FDA approval, ‘we could restart the site within two weeks.’

Once production began, it would take six weeks to eight weeks for the baby formula to be available on shelves.

Republicans have pounced on the administration for the shortage.

‘I think we need to take a moment and think about the fact that, in Joe Biden’s America, it seems like it’s easier to get a crack pipe and a government-funded smoking kit than it is to find baby formula,’ said Rep. Mike Waltz of Florida, a father of a four-month-old.

Last week the average out-of-stock rate for baby formula was 43 percent, according to Datasembly, which collected information from more than 11,000 retailers.

Elise Stefanik, part of the House Republican leadership and a new mother herself, said she had contacted the US Food and Drug Administration in February but received ‘no substantive response.’

‘Joe Biden simply has no plan. In fact, when Joe Biden’s White House was asked about the shortage, they laughed. Shameful,’ she told reporters.

Her Republican House colleague Anne Wagner of Missouri said her state was one of six where more than half of the normal supply of baby milk was out of stock.

‘I’ve heard stories of moms firsthand — my own daughter-in-law — bartering for baby formula on Facebook,’ she said.

‘Pregnant women are asking if they should start stockpiling. They’re anxious during a time of high stress and anxiety.’

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill will hold a hearing in two weeks on infant formula shortages, the House Energy and Commerce Committee said on Wednesday, as it called the situation ‘increasingly alarming.’

The House of Representatives panel, which is scheduled to meet May 25, did not name any company executives or other witnesses, but said it would release more details before the meeting.

The hearing will focus on the shortage’s causes, efforts to increase production, and what action is needed ‘to ensure access to safe formula across the nation,’ the committee chair, Representative Frank Pallone, a Democrat, said in a statement.

‘The nationwide infant formula shortages are increasingly alarming and demand Congress’ immediate attention,’ he said.

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