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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden met on Thursday with executives from infant formula manufacturers and retailers including Target, Walmart and Nestle's Gerber, pressing them to beef up tight supplies and do everything possible to get families access.
The White House also outlined measures the administration is taking.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration will announce new steps in the coming days regarding importing certain infant formula products from abroad, the White House said, and Biden has asked the Federal Trade Commission to probe reports of predatory conduct such as price gouging.
During his meeting with the executives, Biden discussed efforts to increase production and urged companies to "do more to help families purchase infant formula," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
"What we are seeing, which is an enormous problem, is hoarding," Psaki said. "That is also something we're focused on."
Tight supplies of formula dwindled further after Abbott Laboratories in February recalled Similac and other baby formula made at its Michigan plant following consumer complaints of bacteria contamination. The FDA later cited five bacterial infections reported in babies given the company's formula, including two deaths.
Abbott, the biggest U.S. supplier of milk formula, said tests showed one bacteria strain found in the facility was not linked to any known infant illnesses, although it was updating its cleaning and related protocols.
The plant's closure exacerbated pandemic-related supply chain issues causing formula shortages the FDA has said it is working to address.
Other major formula producers include Reckitt Benckiser and Nestle SA.
Several retailers, including Target, CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance, have limited formula purchases until supplies improve to prevent hoarding. New York Attorney General Letitia James also has warned against price gouging.
U.S. House lawmakers plan a hearing on the matter on May 25.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters lawmakers want to ensure it does not happen again, "but right now the baby's crying, the baby's hungry and we need to address the situation right now."
Last month, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro sought a Department of Health and Human Services probe, citing a whistleblower report from October 2021.
On Thursday, House Republicans criticized the Biden administration, saying a plan should have been in place to address the shortages sooner.
Abbott said it could restart production in Sturgis, Michigan, within two weeks of FDA approval, adding it is prioritizing production at its Columbus, Ohio, facility and air-shipping formula from its Ireland plant.
The company announced the recall on Feb. 17.
On Feb. 28, the FDA warned of Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella Newport infections in babies fed with formula produced at the Michigan plant. FDA finished inspecting that facility on March 18, and the company responded on April 8, Abbott said.
Contributing: Trevor Hunnicutt, Jessica DiNapoli and Leroy Leo