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In response to the Korean War, the Defense Production Act was enacted in 1950 and has been used more than 50 times since.
In addition to voluntary agreements, the act covers what the government calls “an association of private interests approved by the government to coordinate actions in support of the national defense.”
The provision permits business competitors to cooperate and plan measures to increase supplies of materials.
According to Forbes:
The DPA was first used during the Korean War to channel production of metals and other materials toward the war effort, giving a boost to defense industries that had experienced a lull after World War II.
Though rarely invoked, the act has been applied for a wide variety of purposes: To incentivize building a decentralized industrial system that would be less vulnerable to a nuclear strike, to keep California supplied with adequate energy imports and to crack down on Chinese spyware.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, former President Donald Trump used the act to order the acquisition of masks, ventilators and other public health supplies, and Biden used it in 2021 to boost production of Covid-19 tests and vaccine components.
To address the nationwide shortage of baby formula, President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act Wednesday and said that his administration would use Defense Department aircraft to transport formula from overseas that met U.S. safety and health standards.
It comes as the supply of infant formula has dropped by 40% nationwide since April, leaving parents of newborns in critical need of food to feed their children. Additionally, Abbott Laboratories has recalled Similac, adding to the current formula shortages.
White House officials have said they are working “24/7” to resolve the situation.
As a result of Abbot Nutrition’s voluntary recall of infant formula, the White House said that the president has “directed his team to do everything possible to ensure that there is enough safe infant formula in the country and available for families that need it.”
According to Biden, the Defense Production Act ensures that manufacturers have the ingredients needed to develop “safe, healthy infant formula here at home.”
“The President is requiring suppliers to direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good,” the White House added. “Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains.”
Moreover, the White House has announced the launch of a new program, “Operation Fly Formula” in order to expedite the importation of baby formula and increase availability in the United States.
The Forbes report continued:
Biden also ordered federal agencies to use Department of Defense commercial aircraft to fetch baby formula that meets U.S. standards from sites overseas, the White House announced.
The Department of Defense will speed up the importing of baby formula by using contracts with air cargo lines to bypass usual freight routes, a measure also employed during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the White House said.
“Bypassing regular air freighting routes will speed up the importation and distribution of formula and serve as an immediate support as manufacturers continue to ramp up production,” according to the White House.
A letter from President Biden to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsak urges the two to “take all appropriate measures available to get additional safe formula into the country immediately.”
“Specifically, I request that you work expeditiously to identify any and all avenues to speed the importation of safe infant formula into the United States and onto store shelves,” Biden added. “I further request that over the next week you work with the Department of Defense to utilize contracted aircraft to accelerate the arrival of infant formula into the United States that meets our Government’s health and safety standards.”
The FDA and Abbott have agreed on the next steps to reopen Abbott’s Sturgis, Michigan, facility. This facility had been closed because of concerns about bacterial contamination after four infants became sick, the White House claimed.
Furthermore, the FDA has issued guidelines that will allow major formula manufacturers to safely import formulas that are not currently manufactured for the U.S. market.
Forbes reports that Abbott closed its Sturgis, Michigan, baby formula plant in February, after regulators launched an investigation into possible links between formula manufactured there and a string of infant bacterial infections and two deaths.
By early May, stores had 43% less formula in stock and profiteers had begun to hoard remaining supplies, selling them online at a large markup, the New York Times reported.
An investigation into the infections by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded last week and found no additional cases.
Monday, Abbott announced it had reached an arrangement to reopen its Sturgis plant with the Food and Drug Administration’s approval. However, it could take well over a month before Abbott baby formula begins to reappear on shelves, the company said.
According to the White House, the Biden administration continues to urge states to “cut red tape and implement WIC flexibility, as USDA wrote to states in a letter last week.”
“The Administration remains in close touch with manufacturers and retailers to identify transportation and logistical needs to increase the amount and speed of FDA approved formula being shipped into the country, and ensure that formula is quickly moving from factories to retailers.”