Why Baby Formula Shortages Continue in the US

Why Baby Formula Shortages Continue in the US
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Baby formula, one of the most important items on supermarket shelves, remains in short supply in many parts of the US Severe shortages sent families across the country squabbling in May and June. Despite a plant restart at the epicenter of the crisis and a government effort to bring in the equivalent of millions of bottles of formula from abroad, in many states, demand still outstrips supply.

1. How serious is the shortage?

Nationwide, the stock figure, which measures the percentage of expected demand that suppliers have available for sale, was 72% for powdered infant formula the week ending July 10, a slight improvement on up from 70% the week before, according to IRI data from around the world. The figure was below 60% in just one state, Alaska, compared to five states the week ending July 3.

2. Why is there a shortage?

Long-term economic pressures collided with a sudden supply shock. Long-term problems stem from the pandemic, which has disrupted supply chains for countless products, including ingredients used in baby formula, and caused labor shortages that are hitting many industries. Then in February, after reports of bacterial infection in multiple babies, there were recalls of products made by Abbott Laboratories at its facility in Sturgis, Michigan, and the plant was closed.

3. What infant formulas were recalled?

Abbott recalled some formulations of Similac, EleCare and Alimentum produced at its Sturgis facility. Later, the US Food and Drug Administration announced a recall of Similac PM 60/40, Abbott’s special low-mineral infant formula. The recalls were related to the cases of four babies who consumed formula made at the Sturgis plant and became infected with cronobacter, two of whom died, although subsequent allegations have been made and several lawsuits have been filed. Abbott has said that its products are not to blame for the illnesses and deaths.

4. What is the status of the Sturgis plant?

After reaching an agreement with regulators to reopen the facility, Abbott restarted operations in June. But two weeks later, the plant closed again, this time due to flooding amid heavy storms. It reopened for the second time on July 1. The company had previously said it would take six to eight weeks from reopening for products to hit shelves.

5. What has the government done to alleviate the shortage?

Until the crisis, a combination of tariffs and FDA regulation had largely excluded foreign baby formula makers from the US market. When shortages became acute, the agency temporarily relaxed its rules to allow the government to import supplies from abroad in a program called Operation Fly Formula. Now, the FDA intends to provide a path for foreign companies to continue supplying the US after shortages have subsided, to make the supply chain, now dominated by just a handful of companies, more streamlined. more solid. In addition, the White House invoked the Defense Production Act, which gives broad authority to the executive branch to intervene in private industry in urgent situations. In this case, US formula makers can cut the line to receive the materials they need from suppliers like sugar, corn, and oils.

6. Who are the most affected by the shortage?

Low-income people are particularly struggling. Without much cash on hand, some families were unable to build up reserves and faced price increases from secondary sellers or had to pay shipping from online retailers. In many states, Abbott Nutrition is the only contractor for low-income families who get benefits through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC. That means parents who buy formula have to take the extra step of contacting their local WIC office for alternatives or paying out of pocket.

7. Where can you find formula?

Families can contact their pediatricians, who may have samples or some supplies. Parents can also check out smaller retailers like convenience stores or pharmacies that may have stock. Community resources such as a local food pantry, milk bank, or other non-profit organizations may have access to the supply. It’s safe for most babies to switch to a different brand name, including a generic, according to guidelines on navigating shortages from the American Academy of Pediatrics. You shouldn’t make your own formula from a prescription found online or elsewhere, according to the FDA and AAP. Homemade formulas can be dangerous, leading to contamination and hypocalcemia, or low calcium levels, the FDA says. Doctors also advise against diluting the formula to stretch it out. It can create nutritional imbalances and serious health problems, says the AAP. For infants older than 6 months, cow’s milk is an option “for a short time,” but the AAP cautions that it “should not become routine” due to concerns that infants may not get enough iron.

8. Is breastfeeding an option?

For some people, of course. But formula is in high demand by all kinds of people, including adoptive parents and mothers with certain health conditions or a limited supply of breast milk. At six months, only a quarter of babies in the US are exclusively breastfed, according to data from the CDC. About 20% of breastfed babies were supplemented with infant formula in their first two days of life, according to the CDC. Relactating, the process of starting to breastfeed again after an interval, can take a long time and is not always successful. Research shows that a lack of workplace resources, such as a dedicated pumping space or enough breaks, can cause a parent to stop breastfeeding early. The US is the only high-income country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, meaning many moms return to work soon after having a baby, leaving little time to acclimatize to breastfeeding.

• Blame poor policies and red tape for shortages, says a Bloomberg Opinion editorial.

• The White House outlines the administration’s steps to address shortages.

• The New York Times delves into the emotionally charged topic of breastfeeding.

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