By Arul Louis
New York, May 19 (IANS): Facing a national outcry over shortages of infant food and an election in less than five months, President Joe Biden has taken the drastic step of invoking a law meant for ensuring national security needs to meet the crisis.
Using the Defence Production Act, Biden on Wednesday ordered suppliers of ingredients to give priority to makers of the infant formula, and authorised the use of Defence Department planes to bring it from abroad.
Infant formula is the powder or concentrated liquid from which a milk-like liquid is made for babies, especially those under the age of one. Some of them are specially formulated for babies with allergies.
Explaining his order, Biden said the "disruption threatens the continued functioning of the national infant formula supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure that is essential to the national defence, including to national public health or safety."
Widely criticised for the shortages affecting infants, Biden invoked the Defence Production Act while a meeting on global food shortages convened by Secretary of State Antony Blinken was taking place at the United Nations.
The law was passed in 1950 during the Korean War to ensure defence supplies.
It was also invoked by former President Donald Trump to help boost production of medical equipment and supplies in response to the Covid pandemic.
According to Datasembly, a company that tracks retail sales, the nationwide out-of-stock rate for infant formula in stores was 43 per cent for the week ending May 8.
It said that the shortages began last July and steadily become more severe.
It reached crisis proportions after Abbott Nutrition, one of the four US major manufacturers of infant formula, shut down production at its plant in February because of contamination with cronobacter bacteria.
It also recalled some products after two babies that had been given formula made at the plant died.
In the politicised atmosphere, Republicans ratcheted up criticism of Biden and proposed legislation of their own for the infant formula crisis.
Their bill will seek to lift restrictions on infant formula imports, boost production and make it easier to get new products approved.
Elise Stefanik, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, who announced that she and colleagues are introducing the "Babies Need More Formula Now Act", accused the Biden administration of "incompetence" and being aceincapable of making any effective plan to address this crisisa.
A new mother herself, she said, "The baby formula supply crisis is a matter of life and death".