1. How bad is the shortage?
Nationwide, the inventory count, which measures the percentage of expected demand that suppliers have made available for sale, was 72% for infant formula powder in the week ended July 10, a slight improvement from 70% the previous week. IRI Worldwide. Compared to five states for the week ending July 3, only one state, Alaska, was below 60%.
2. Why is there a shortage?
Long-term economic pressures collided with a sudden supply shock. Longer-term challenges stem from the pandemic, which has disrupted supply chains for countless products, including ingredients used in baby formula, and caused labor shortages that plague many industries. In February, products manufactured by Abbott Laboratories at its Sturgis, Michigan facility were recalled and the plant closed after reports of bacterial infections in several infants.
3. Which infant formulas were recalled?
Abbott recalled some Similac, EleCare and Alimentum formulas produced at the Sturgis facility. Later, the US Food and Drug Administration announced a recall of Abbott’s special low-mineral infant formula, Similac PM 60/40. The recalls were related to the cases of four infants who ingested formula made at the Sturgis plant and became infected with chronobacteria, two of whom died, although complaints and several lawsuits have since been filed. Abbott said its products were not to blame for the illnesses and deaths.
4. How is the Sturgis plant doing?
Abbott resumed operations in June after reaching an agreement with regulators to reopen the facility. But two weeks later, the plant closed again, this time due to flooding during heavy storms. It opened for the second time on July 1. The company previously said it would take six to eight weeks after reopening for products to hit shelves.
5. What did the government do to alleviate the shortage?
Before the crisis, a combination of tariffs and FDA regulation largely shut foreign manufacturers of infant formula out of the U.S. market. When the shortage became acute, the agency temporarily relaxed its rules to allow the government to import supplies from abroad in a program called Operation Formula Fly. Now, the FDA intends to provide a way for foreign companies to continue supplying the U.S. once the shortages have eased, making the supply chain — now dominated by just a handful of companies — more robust. In addition, the White House launched the Defense Production Act, which gives the executive branch broad powers to intervene in private industry in emergency situations. In this case, U.S. formula makers can cut lines to buy the materials they need from suppliers like sugar, corn and oil.
6. Who is most affected by the shortage?
Especially low-income people suffer. With not much cash on hand, some families were unable to stock up and faced mark-ups from secondary sellers or had to pay for shipping from online retailers. In many states, Abbott Nutrition is the sole contractor for low-income families receiving benefits through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC. This means parents shopping for formula must take the extra step of contacting local WIC offices for alternatives or paying out of pocket.
7. Where can you find the formula?
Families can contact their pediatrician who may have samples or some supplies. Parents can also check out smaller retailers, such as department stores or pharmacies with warehouses. Community resources such as a local food pantry, milk bank, or other non-profit organizations may have access to supplies. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines for eliminating deficiencies, it’s safe to switch to a different brand, including a generic brand, for most babies. According to the FDA and AAP, you should not make your own formula using a recipe found online or elsewhere. The FDA says homemade formulas can be dangerous, lead to contamination and hypocalcemia, or low calcium. Doctors also recommend diluting the formula to prolong it. The AAP says this can cause nutritional imbalances and serious health problems. For babies over 6 months, cow’s milk is a “short-term” option, but the AAP cautions that it should not “become routine” because of concerns that babies may not be getting enough iron.
8. Is breastfeeding an option?
For some people, sure. But formula is widely requested by all kinds of people, including adoptive parents and mothers with certain health conditions or limited breast milk supply. According to the CDC, only a quarter of babies in the United States are exclusively breastfed at six months. According to the CDC, about 20% of breastfed babies are supplemented with infant formula in the first two days of life. Relactating — the process of resuming breastfeeding after a gap can be time-consuming and not always successful. Research shows that a lack of workplace resources, such as a dedicated pumping area or sufficient breaks, can cause a parent to leave nursing earlier. The U.S. is the only high-income country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, meaning many mothers return to work soon after giving birth, leaving them with little time to adjust to nursing.
• Blame bad policies and bureaucracy for the shortfall, says a Bloomberg Opinion editorial.
• The White House describes the government’s steps to address the shortage.
• The New York Times examines the emotionally charged issue of breastfeeding.
More stories like this are available here bloomberg.com
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