No, the Baby Formula Shortage Still Isn’t Over

MedPage Today in May national infant formula recalls and consequent famine. In this report, we follow what has happened since the worst famine and what experts say needs to happen to prevent baby food shortages in the future.

At the height of the baby food shortage, Jules McCarthy made the 140-mile trip to Chicago from her home in Oshtemo, Michigan, with her husband, and built stops along the way to find food for her babies. Local stores were out of her preferred Happy Baby Organic powder formula, and nearby health food stores had increased prices by $10 per tub.

“It was like a huge slap in the face,” said the mother of two. MedPage Today. “He was really a punk.”

But even in October, with more formulas on the shelves as she transitioned her youngest son to solid foods, McCarthy still had to visit multiple stores to find it.

Since the February 2022 recall by Abbott Nutrition and the consequent shortage of infant formula, which has left new parents scrambling to feed their children safely, most formulas have become easier to find on the shelves. But the national supply has still not stabilized, and experts say the country still has a long way to go before families can easily get what they need, let alone trust the government and industry to prevent another crisis.

“It’s not like how we choose food as adults. [Infants] “And in this case, Abbott didn’t,” said Cecília Tomori, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Baltimore.

“In terms of priority, the entire FDA needs reform. But this issue requires more special attention than has been given so far.”

First Crisis

Months after the emergence of a rare bacterium, Cronobacter sakazakii, In late 2021, it sickened five babies and killed two babies.

A delayed FDA inspection revealed the presence of bacterial strains in several areas of the factory, among other safety issues, and the firm itself noted that it found 20 specimens. Cronobacter Species in production areas only in February. The factory closed and Abbott recalled a number of powder formulas in February.

The factory closure sparked a national famine that left shelves empty and parents panicked. Families of infants and even older children who needed special formulas, especially those in the Special Supplementary Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, had little choice but to fend for themselves.

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Hard-to-Find Formulas

According to some reports, out-of-stock rates for infant formula were below 18% in early December; By comparison, market and retail data provider Datasembly reported that the rate reached an alarming 43% in May.

“The situation is undeniably better than it was in April, May, June, and July. Even now, there are “a few specific sore spots,” said Steven Abrams, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas at Austin.

Even as late as mid-November, 33.86% of people living with infants younger than 1 year reported having difficulty obtaining infant formula, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. Rural-urban inequalities are deepening, Abrams said, as those with access to large retailers find formulas easier.

Meanwhile, Facebook groups for swapping or selling baby food remain active, and parents are still voicing their frustration online. In comments to a Reddit post that has since been deleted December 6, parents explained that they had trouble finding both Similac brands from Abbott and Enfamil brands from Reckitt Benckiser, specifically hypoallergenic and proprietary formulas.

One user whose 2-month-old son is allergic to milk wrote that the hypoallergenic formula is expensive and “IMPOSSIBLE to find” even after trying multiple stores and brands. “Here we are, trying desperately to make breastfeeding work once again, despite the mental and physical toll it has taken on me. … We’ve been completely forgotten.”

As of press time, numerous powder brands in various sizes including Similac’s hypoallergenic Alimentum, Enfamil’s equivalent Nutramigen, Similac 360 Total Care, Similac Advance, Enfamil NeuroPro were out of stock at Target, Walgreens, Walmart, and formula. company sites.

In part, Enfamil’s website states, “Since its recall by another manufacturer, resources have been added to respond to the need, but unfortunately, the wave of online orders is substantial.” A vice president of Enfamil manufacturer Reckitt said: Reuters The famine is expected to last until the spring of 2023.

“It is mind-blowing that this is not an emergency,” another Reddit user wrote recently. “[I]It’s been this long and the problem hasn’t been resolved.”

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Legal Intervention

In August, the USDA announced that it would extend a series of exemptions granted to state WIC agencies through December 31, 2022 to allow families to change the size, form, and branding of formulas. More than half of all infant formula use in the U.S. was limited to purchasing only limited brands that had contracts with the program and could not easily switch. Also, they were unable to order food online with WIC benefits.

A law passed in May called the Baby Food Access Act would force formulators with WIC contracts to plan for potential supply disruptions and would give the Minister of Agriculture other emergency powers to waive red tape in the event of such cuts.

The FDA has released an assessment of the formula response, offering recommendations to modernize data systems, improve emergency responses, provide specialized training to researchers, and expand the food workforce, improve industry accountability, and create better regulations on prevention. Cronobacter especially contamination

An FDA official wrote in an email to: MedPage TodayThe FDA’s additional requirements since the recall and deficiency, including retraining researchers on infant formula inspections using what’s known as “practice discretion” to allow nine manufacturers to sell their products on U.S. shelves with certain flexibility around FDA-mandated labeling and other requirements. highlighted their efforts. Working with the CDC to implement a national reporting system for Cronobacter infections.

An external review of the FDA food program by the Reagan-Udall Foundation went even further, urging the FDA to ask formulators to share their product testing records and use its mandatory recall authority “more often.”

Beyond the Shelves

But experts say the federal government and formula companies have yet to address some of the key issues that make the country so vulnerable to collapse: the few big companies that dominate the formula market and WIC contracts, the lack of basic support for women who can breastfeed. and, as Tomori says, the long history of predatory formula marketing to low-income families and people of color misleads families and discourages breastfeeding.

Abrams says an industry where two companies dominate 80% of the market needs expansion. To that end, Abrams said, “I think we need to be careful about reimposing tariffs on imported formulas.” While Congress is deciding whether to allow the temporary tariff removal on infant formula to expire on December 31, the dairy industry is lobbying for tariffs to continue on imported infant formula.

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Experts agreed that new parents need paid leave to care for their babies, education about breastfeeding, and safe spaces to pump milk at work – basics that will give more parents the option to use formula instead of a mandatory requirement. “Imagine mom working and trying to pump for her baby… while working in any retail chain,” Abrams said. “It’s not easy to do.”

“We need a much more in-depth look at how we got here and what we can do to improve it at all levels: clearly improving safety in the facilities themselves,” Tomori said, “but also really investing in protection, promoting and supporting breastfeeding, and for that support.” holding society accountable, not individual families.”

What Should Parents Do?

In the short term, pediatricians urged parents to avoid using temporary formula formulas. Abrams stressed the importance of avoiding homemade formulas despite her practice history, as they can upset the balance of nutrients a baby needs and are not sterile.

“There is a reason why the formula was developed. It was not a secret in the medical literature. [of the] Referring to the high rates of anemia, Abrams said that in the 50s and 60s homemade formulas worked for some and not for everyone.

Doctors also stressed that parents should not dilute formula, as this can also harm the baby’s growth and development.

For parents who still can’t find specific formulas, “talk to the pediatrician and [have them] Abrams, tell you a brand name and say, ‘If I can’t find this, what else is the same?’ Specify WIC websites.

Abbott Nutrition did not respond to requests for comment at time of publication.

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    Sophie Putka is an initiative and investigative writer for MedPage Today. His work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Discover, Business Insider, Inverse, Cannabis Wire, and more. She joined medpage Today in August 2021 she. Follow



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