WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. health regulators will announce action on baby formula imports as soon as Monday to address a nationwide shortage that has left parents scrambling to feed their babies, the Food and Drug Administration's chief said.
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf provided no details, but President Joe Biden said last week he was working to allow more formula to come in from other countries.
Califf told NBC News he does not expect the shortage of the critical baby product to last until the end of year, adding on CNN that he expects the situation to gradually improve.
The White House separately said it was continuing talks with the major formula manufacturers to identify logistical hurdles and provide any transportation support that could help them and major retailers get formula to where it is needed.
"This is principally an issue of production more than goods movement," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters at a White House briefing.
Empty or low-stock shelves stem partly from a February recall of some formulas by one of the nation's main manufacturers, Abbott Laboratories after a Michigan plant was shuttered over bacteria issues. The shortages have also been compounded by supply-chain snags and historic inflation, leaving about 40% of baby formula products out of stock nationwide, data shows.
It was "quite likely" there could be movement to reopen Abbott's Sturgis, Michigan, manufacturing facility in about two weeks and that an announcement should come "very soon ... about moving forward," FDA's Califf told NBC's "Today" program.
He added it was up to the company to meet its timeline and that FDA was obligated to ensure problems with the facility were fixed before approving its reopening.
Abbot has said its products are safe and that it has committed to fixing quality issues at its factory, adding that bacteria found at the plant has not been directly tied to any illnesses. The FDA began looking into the facility after complaints about bacterial infections in infants who had consumed the products.
"We have been working to address the FDA's observations so we can restart operations," the company said in a statement on Monday.
As far as efforts to bring in baby formula from other countries that the FDA deems safe for import, Califf said: "I expect by the end of the day today that we're likely to have an announcement about that path forward."
Representatives for the health agency did not respond to a request seeking more details on the plan.
White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told reporters he expected the FDA to issue import guidance as soon as Monday and to make an announcement about the agency and Abbott's agreement over its plant, adding that he deferred to the FDA.
A White House official earlier said the government has offered transportation and logistics support to Abbott as well as Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc, Nestle SA and Perrigo Co Plc, in addition to top retailers such as Target Corp, Amazon.com Inc and Walmart Inc.
Congress this week also plans to address infant formula rules regarding the Women, Infants and Children program, a federal assistance nutrition program administered by U.S. states, as well as emergency funding to shore up supplies.
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