By Roz Edward
The worsening baby formula shortage is forcing millions of parents across the nation to drastic measures to meet the nutritional needs of infant children. Their exhaustive searches for baby formula have caused a number of actions from traveling long distances to find formula to watering down formula in an attempt to stretch it.
Some parents have admitted trying to make their own DIY formulas, while others confess that they continue to use the recalled powdered formula to feed infants. “I’d rather feed her and take the chance that she’ll get sick, or not feed her and assure that she will get sick,” said one California mom.
Reasons for the shortage can be narrowed to two primary causes: the national supply chain shortage that decreased product accessibility and increased food costs for millions of U.S. households, coupled with a federal recall of contaminated formula.
Since November knotted supply chains have made it difficult for parents to locate baby formula and in February the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shut-down Michigan-based Abbott Laboratories — a major player in the formula business — and recalled three of their powdered baby formula brands; Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare due to potential bacterial contamination.
The growing crisis for families feeding infants and children reached dramatically high discrepancy rates in May with retailers reporting a 43 percent out-of-stock rate. “I was fortunate enough to work with a group of very resourceful researchers, who located formula in California and overnighted it to me in Atlanta,” said local journalist Roz Edward. “But I am one of the lucky ones and not many people who are desperate to find formula have access to these types of resources.”
On Saturday, May 14, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee teamed up with the National Association of Christian Churches Houston to give away baby formula Saturday to Houstonians in need. The formula was designated for use during a natural disaster, “I understand the crisis mothers are facing in finding formula. I’m working with President Biden on supply chain issues but there must be an urgent response now,” Lee said.
On Sunday, May 15, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that congress is considering legislation to alleviate the baby formula crisis and fix issues connected to how people can purchase formula, implying that importing baby formula is a possible solution being considered.
The proposed legislation would “loosen some of the red tape,” she said, pointing out that half of the formula is bought by WIC recipients.
WIC users are particularly vulnerable as they represent the bulk of mothers and children at risk. The federal WIC program, which stands for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, provides grants to states to support low-income postpartum and pregnant women, as well as infants and children who face nutritional risks.
WIC receipients total 8,815,472 and of that number, Whites accounted for 5,664,332 (58.2 percent), Blacks1,927,548 (19.8 percent), American Indian 1,191,137 (12.2 percent), Multiple Race 499,196 (5.1 percent), Asian 297,724 (3.1 percent), Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 81,735 (0.8 percent). The Race Not Reported category accounted for the remaining 72,797 (0.7 percent) of enrollment.
FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said the agency is taking measures to get infant formula supply back to 100 percent over the next several weeks to months, adding it was “quite likely” there could be movement to reopen Abbott Laboratories’ Sturgis, Michigan, manufacturing facility in about two weeks.
“I know how basic and fundamental the nutritional needs of infants and children are and how worrisome this is for parents. We’ve been working with this since complaints came in about a particular plant … and we’ve been helping other plants to fill in the gaps all along in this process,” Califf told “CBS Mornings.”
“We would expect this [shortage] to gradually get better over the next several weeks and within several months to get completely back to normal.” Califf went on to say that he disagreed with the supply shortage numbers being reported. “We believe it is possible for all families to get formula, there is enough to go around, but it’s not being distributed in the right way.”
But Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said “known problems” at the baby formula plant in Michigan “should have prompted more aggressive action earlier.”
Currently, only nine individuals are charged with overseeing baby formula in the U.S. Califf says the oversight deficiencies will be addressed in upcoming budget hearings.
Families and individuals on the hunt for infant formula can visit the hhs.gov/formula to find ways to get access to formula.