Desperate parents looking for baby food in the USA have often been faced with empty shelves for weeks. The shortage is causing increasing problems for the US government – when did President Biden know about the extent of the crisis?

Against the background of ongoing bottlenecks in infant formula, the government of US President Joe Biden is coming under increasing pressure for its crisis management.

Biden said in a video call with infant formula manufacturers that he had known about the extent of the problem since early April — that would be weeks after the crisis began in February. White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the entire administration had been working to manage the crisis from the start. However, in response to repeated questions, she was unable to clarify when Biden was informed about the crisis by his employees.

The background to the bottlenecks is the failure of an Abbott factory, the largest manufacturer of infant formula in the USA. Abbott recalled several product lines on February 17 after four infants became ill and two died, possibly due to bacterial contamination. Production at one of the company’s plants in the state of Michigan was temporarily halted in February.

“A very serious matter”

At the video link, Biden asked an executive at Reckitt infant formula if he was surprised by the fallout from the closure of competitor Abbott’s key plant. Manager Robert Cleveland replied: “We knew from the start that this was going to be a very serious matter.” Biden announced on Wednesday that his administration would fly in more baby formula from abroad.

Desperate parents have been looking for baby milk formula for weeks, which is sold out in many stores. Biden said, “There’s nothing more distressing than feeling like you’re not getting what your child needs.” He instructed his government to “use all available means to increase supply”. Baby food must be on the supermarket shelves as soon as possible.

Biden has made bottlenecks a top priority, activating a wartime law last month to boost production. In addition, Biden had launched “Operation Fly Formula” (roughly: “Operation Fly Baby Food”) to bring supplies from abroad to the United States.

Biden announced flights from London and Melbourne on Wednesday to bring baby food from companies Kendamil (UK) and Bubs (Australia) to various locations in the US. In May, Biden’s government had already arranged for two flights with baby food over the US Ramstein Air Force base in Rhineland-Palatinate.