An Update on the Baby Formula Shortage
Whether you're a breastfeeding supporter, a parent who uses a formula, or someone who falls somewhere in the middle, you couldn't escape the impact of 2022 and are likely looking for an update on the baby formula shortage.
Have things returned to normal? Have things gotten worse? We'll delve into all of these questions below.
A Shortage Timeline
During his time in office, former President Trump reduced funding to many government agencies, including the FDA. He also signed a trade deal that increased the surcharge per kilogram, making it nearly impossible to import formula from Canada. The COVID-19 pandemic caused various supply chain issues across almost every industry, and baby formula was no exception. Combine the already unstable supply chain with a significant recall, and you've got the perfect recipe for a massive shortage.
In February 2022, Abbott Nutrition — one of the country's largest suppliers of infant formula — recalled multiple brands for potential bacterial contamination. The FDA reported that they might have been contaminated with Cronobacter sakazakii — a bacterium that may have caused four infant hospitalizations resulting in two deaths.
At the shortage’s peak, shelves were empty, and price gougers were selling cases of formula for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Among the hardest hit were those with infants who had special nutritional needs or allergies.
Much of the news surrounding the shortage was paired with instructions on how parents could make their own formula, as people did in the past. The problem with these homemade formula recipes is that they can easily get contaminated, which could put the child’s health at risk. Some include sugar or sweetened condensed milk, which could also put the infant at risk for nutritional deficiencies that could cause other health problems in the future.
The collective advice was to avoid these homemade formula recipes at all costs, but that left many parents wondering how they were going to feed their infants.
Operation Fly Formula and Other Challenges
In response to the formula shortage, Biden invoked the Defense Production Act, which requires suppliers to direct materials to formula manufacturers. This directive gave the industry priority over any other company that may have ordered the raw materials that go into formula production.
He also worked with the Department of Defense in “Operation Fly Formula” — a joint effort to import baby formula from Europe and make it legal to sell European formula in the United States. Before Operation Fly Formula, the fact that the FDA did not regulate these brands made them illegal to sell in America.