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Op-Ed: White House tries to tackle urgent infant formula shortages

The infant formula shortage across the U.S. has become a matter of urgency now that the government is involved.

Grocery store shelves where baby formula is typically stocked are nearly empty in Washington, on May 11, 2022. — AFP
Grocery store shelves where baby formula is typically stocked are nearly empty in Washington, on May 11, 2022. — AFP

The infant formula shortage across the U.S. has become a matter of urgency now that the Biden administration and lawmakers are involved. But to what extent this involvement goes in helping the situation is questionable.

It’s Important to remember that the initial shortage problem dates back to February, when a contamination problem at an Abbott factory in Sturgis, Michigan that produces much of the Similac formula, as well as several other brands, was shut down due to possible bacterial contamination.

The big question on some lawmakers’ collective minds’ was expressed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday, when he blasted the Biden administration for its handling of the formula shortage.

“Much of it stems from a recall that resulted in a plant being shut down, but it seems that while President Biden’s administration and the FDA knew all about this problem as it developed, they have been asleep at the switch in terms of getting production back online,” McConnell said, according to CNN, adding, “The administration has got to be more proactive and forward-leaning.”

Meanwhile, Abbott said on Wednesday that it could restart production at the Michigan facility, pending FDA approval, within two weeks. Formula from the shuttered plant could be on shelves six to eight weeks after that.

That factory’s prolonged shutdown, combined with general supply-chain problems for the formula ingredients and packaging, has led to the shortage. Nationwide, about 40 percent of the most popular baby formula brands were out of stock as of April 24, according to the Wall Street Journal.

President Biden met with representatives of manufacturers and retailers on Thursday, the New York Times reports. Afterward, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “Our message to parents is, we hear you, we want to do everything we can, and we’re going to cut every element of red tape to help address this and make it better for you, to get formula on the shelves.”

Several remedies are under consideration, besides the obvious push by Biden to hurry up production and distribution of the baby formula.

FTC intervention: The Federal Trade Commission, as well as state officials, are being told to move against price gouging. Companies will be asked to enforce buying limits on formula.

More imports: The Food and Drug Administration plans to announce soon that imports of infant formula will be ramped up, mostly from Mexico, Chile, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

WIC changes: The Department of Agriculture is asking states to expand the formula types and sizes that WIC recipients can obtain with their benefits, per USA Today.

Bottom Line: It’s too late to start placing blame, which, by the way, is already being done… Suffice to say that the formula shortage is instead yet another extraordinary example of the failures of the US health system, with the richest country in the world struggling to provide basic nutrition to many of its infants.

And, as usual, those who will suffer the most are the very ones who need help the most. “Certainly, the families who have fewer resources, have fewer options, who aren’t able to pay premium prices are going to be more at risk,” said Ann Kellams, a University of Virginia faculty pediatrician and board president of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

And for some people, the formula isn’t a choice but a necessity. Allergies or immune conditions can also necessitate using infant formula, including into childhood and adulthood. 

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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