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Biden meets with CEOs on US infant formula crisis

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Washington (AFP) – US President Joe Biden held a baby formula summit at the White House on Wednesday with advisers and executives from five manufacturers to discuss ways to end a nationwide shortage of staple infant foods.

Senior executives from ByHeart, Bubs Australia, Gerber, Reckitt and Perrigo joined by video conference during the meeting with Biden, Health Secretary Xavier Becerra and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.

The notable absence was someone from Abbott, the US market leader whose recall of its formula in response to health and safety concerns caused a sudden hole in the country’s supply.

The critical shortage of baby formula on supermarket shelves is compounding a growing sense of unease for ordinary Americans as they navigate an uncertain economic path after the Covid pandemic.

Unlike other shortages and supply bottlenecks, this one has less to do with inflation or the uneven return to economic health of US trading partners around the world.

While Abbott controls about 40% of the U.S. market, an order from health regulators to close its Michigan plant for safety reasons was enough on its own to trigger the crisis.

However, the Biden administration is scrambling to show it has answers after what critics say was a stumbling first reaction.

In addition to asking rival domestic manufacturers to ramp up production, the White House is running what it calls Operation Fly Formula, using military transport for rapid shipment of manufacturers overseas.

Earlier Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that two more flights would depart in just over a week from Melbourne, Australia, to Pennsylvania and California, delivering the equivalent of 4.6 million eight-ounce bottles. (237 millilitres) of Bubs Australia infant formula.

With US regulators cutting red tape, Bubs Australia plans to ship 27.5 million bottles.

Addressing CEOs, Biden said, “There’s nothing more stressful than feeling like you can’t get what your child needs.”

“That’s why I asked my administration to use all available tools to increase supply,” he added.

Ultimately, however, the United States must reform its market to expand the supply chain, Biden said. “We need more market entrants.”