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Gillibrand, Stefanik weigh in on baby formula shortage "national emergency"

CANTON, NY (NCPR) — New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is proposing new legislation she says will get baby formula to families quickly as the US faces a shortage.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the Democrat said the bill would lift some restrictions on importing baby formula from the E.U, Canada, the U.K., and Japan, which could get more products on shelves within a week after the bill is signed.

The current shortage was caused when Abbott Nutrition, the largest manufacturer of baby formula in the U.S., stopped production after reports that contaminated formula made some babies sick.

The FDA and Abbott reached an agreement to allow production to resume. But formula won’t be back on store shelves for about two months. Gillibrand says that’s too long for families to wait.

"This is a national emergency. Babies have become sick and have died. We need access to high-quality formula and we need to do it immediately," she said.

Hours after Gillibrand’s remarks, President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to ramp up production by other U.S. baby formula manufacturers until Abbott is fully functioning again. According to NPR, the President also ordered the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture to begin working with the Pentagon to identify foreign formula that meets U.S. standards to be imported.

Gillibrand also said the WIC program needs to be fully funded. She said about half of all formula is bought using money provided by the program. The federal assistance program helps women with children from birth to five years old. It also provides women with support for breastfeeding and guidance using formula.

Gillibrand criticized the FDA for not acting last year when a whistleblower alerted them to problems at Abbott.

Republicans, including North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, have also criticized the FDA for not acting more quickly. "The Biden FDA failed to answer my calls to action, ignored warning signs of this shortage, and dragged their feet until families were in crisis," Stefanik saidin a press release Wednesday.

Stefanik voted against a bill that passed the House of Representatives Wednesday that would send $28 million to the FDA to alleviate the shortage. But she voted in favor of a second bill that would make it easier for families to buy baby formula with WIC funding.