US Formula Crisis: What You Need to Know | Business and Economics News

Shortages of baby and toddler formula in the United States disproportionately affect vulnerable infants and low-income families who lack the resources to travel long distances or pay premium prices for essential nutrients.

And while the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Thursday that a shuttered infant formula factory – largely responsible for the national shortage – could be back in business as early as next week, store shelves could sit empty for weeks.

Major US pharmacies and retailers such as Target, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens have already limited the amount of formula parents can buy, leaving many people empty-handed.

Some parents, increasingly desperate to feed their little ones, have tried watering down infant formula or making their own from scratch.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has warned against the dilution of infant formula and strongly advises against homemade recipes.

Pediatricians are also sounding the alarm that deficiencies related to loss of nutrition could be very serious, even catastrophic.

Empty shelves show a shortage of baby formula at a CVS store in San Antonio, Texas, USA [Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters]

What exactly is causing this crisis? How could the richest country in the world not have food for its youngest and most vulnerable? What, if anything, is US President Joe Biden’s administration doing to ease this pain? And above all, when will the shelves be stocked again?

Here is the short answer.

Why is there a shortage of formula milk in the United States right now?

Well, there are several reasons. This is primarily a major formula recall by a major US producer, but the problem is also compounded by supply chain issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, 90% of formula production in the United States is concentrated in the hands of four companies: Abbott Nutrition, Reckitt Benckiser, Nestlé USA and Perrigo.

What exactly caused this crisis?

Last February, Abbott Nutrition, which is the largest producer of infant formula in the United States, issued a voluntary recall after four infants were hospitalized with bacterial infections and two of them died – after consuming infant formula made at its plant in Sturgis, Michigan. Production was stopped and the factory closed.

It’s only one factory – how does that trigger a national crisis?

Yes, it’s only one plant, but it’s the largest in the US and it produces half of Abbott’s US supply.

What exactly does the situation look like right now?

The crisis is getting worse every minute.

Forty-three percent of baby formula was out of stock at retailers nationwide in the week ending May 8, according to a data analytics firm Data assembly. Compare that to 30% in April.

And last year?

Infant formula stock was relatively decent for the first half of 2021, with stock-outs fluctuating between 2% and 8%, Datasembly found.

Six-month-old Jared Ramos watches his mother receive free formula
Six-month-old Jared Ramos watches his mother receive free formula, amid ongoing nationwide shortages of infant and toddler formula, at a food pantry run by La Colaborativa in Chelsea, Massachusetts, US [File: Brian Snyder/Reuters]

OK, so how are the parents doing?

Some with the means and ability travel long distances in search of essential nutrient formula and also pay premium prices.

But many struggling families find themselves without such options. In some states, Abbott is the only contractor for low-income families who receive benefits through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC.

Is breastfeeding an option?

Breastfeeding is a personal choice and is not always an option for everyone, for example mothers with health problems or limited breast milk production. It is also not an option for adoptive parents or babies with allergies. Mothers who have to rush back to work after giving birth are often unable to breastfeed.

The United States is the only high-income country in the world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave.

What is the Biden administration doing about the shortage?

After weeks of mounting pressure from his own party, Biden said Wednesday he would invoke the Defense Production Act that would give formula producers priority over ingredients and speed up the theft of formulas from foreign suppliers.

OK, and what about American supplies?

The FDA and Abbott Nutrition have reached an agreement to restart operations at its plant in Sturgis, Michigan. But the FDA said it could take a week or two.

This is good news. So, can we expect to see shelves stocked up very soon?

Unfortunately no.

Why not?

Once production resumes, which could be within the next two weeks, it would still take about two months before the new formula hits stores, Abbott Nutrition said.

Will anyone be held responsible for this?

On Thursday, the FDA commissioner faced bipartisan grilling from lawmakers.

But when asked why the FDA didn’t intervene sooner and look into the formula factory violations, the agency chief said he couldn’t comment due to the ongoing nature of the investigation into plant security breaches.

Anything to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

That remains to be seen. House Democrats on Wednesday passed a $28 million spending bill that would increase funding for the FDA to inspect domestic and international formula producers. But the bill is now moving to the equally divided Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

OK, while Washington DC is busy being Washington DC, what can desperate parents do?

The AAP has issued numerous guidelines and warnings. He also said that in a pinch, parents could feed babies who are not receiving specialist formula and who are six months or older “whole cow’s milk for a brief period until the shortage improves. “. But the guideline stresses in bold: “This is not ideal and should not become routine”.

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