Baby Formula/Infant Formula Shortage in the US
Baby Formula, Infant Formula Shortage in the US: RationalStat Analysis

During the last week of April 2022, more than half of baby formula was sold out in six US states, including Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Missouri, Texas, and Tennessee. According to the product data firm, which analyzed over 11,000 infant formula vendors across the country, 29 percent of baby formula items were out of stock at retailers during the second week of March 2022.

Baby formula is an ideal alternative for infant ingestion that closely resembles the nutritional content of breast milk by containing numerous nutrients such as vitamins, proteins, carbs, lipids, linoleic acid, and prebiotics that aid in the new-borns overall growth.

Commercial infant formulas are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are generally available in three categories, namely Cow milk protein-based formulas, Soy-based formulas, and Protein hydrolysate formulas. Specialized formulae are also offered for premature babies and babies with certain medical disorders. The new-born formula scarcity influences the health of older children and adults who have severe food allergies.

  • In 2019, the market for baby infant formula in the US was estimated at US$ 3.7 Billion.
  • According to a product data firm report, out-of-stock percentages for baby formula ranged from 2% to 8% in the first seven months of last year but have gradually increased since then, reaching 23% in January.
  • The global infant formula/baby foods market was estimated to have reached US$ 53.7 billion in 2020.

The growing shortage of Baby formula in the US

The shortage of baby formula in the US is worsening, prompting some merchants to limit the number of products customers may purchase in a single transaction. Abbott is one of the primary producers of baby formula. The shortage became acute after the FDA issued a warning to the healthcare company - Abbott, a warning and recalled some of its powdered baby formulae over consumer complaints about defective products. This was reported after being notified of four cases of infant illness in which at least four babies were hospitalized with bacterial infection, and at least two babies died. These incidents were reported in Minnesota, Ohio, and Texas and the FDA have teamed up with the CDC and state and local partners to investigate them further. However, supply-chain issues and labor constraints have worsened the recall.

The shortage has been a problem for families across the country still, it's especially noticeable in San Antonio, a Latino-heavy city in South Texas, where many moms lack health insurance and have low-wage jobs limiting their ability to breastfeed. Baby food stores are practically empty across the city, and non-profit organizations are scrambling to secure new supplies. Customers can only buy a certain amount of formula at major retailers like CVS, Target, and Walgreens.

Political angle

Republicans have taken advantage of parents' growing fear to criticize President, claiming that the government has not done enough to increase production. Senator of Utah has also written to the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture on May 10, claiming that federal officials were taking too long to answer.

Safer substitutes for Baby Formula

Countless parents in need seek alternatives due to an ongoing baby formula shortage. Parents can acquire safe, pasteurized breast milk from donation banks or visit a paediatrician for other options such as baby formula samples or testing new brands. For the last five to ten years, ordering alternative formulas from abroad has been a trend and is increasingly common these days. If a kid is six months old, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends gradually supplementing nutrition with solids. American Academy of Paediatrics spokesperson also mentions that baby formula is very nutrient-dense and produced from extensive research; thus, it is hazardous to feed homemade recipes to babies or water down the formula, and there's an increased risk for contamination in the homemade formula as it isn't prepared using the safety protocols.

Stricter measures in the future to ensure quality

The FDA continues to consult with Abbott Nutrition and other infant formula manufacturers and weighs all options for ensuring the infant formula supply. It's also looking at Abbott's position and collaborating with them on resuming manufacturing safely in Sturgis, Michigan. While Abbott waits for the plant to reopen, it attempts to enhance Similac production at its other facilities and export formula from Europe. Similarly, the maker of Enfamil, Reckitt Benckiser Group, says its factories are working on expanding supply. They've also greatly enhanced their quality assurance resources to ensure that our stringent safety standards are upheld. Under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), FDA will supposedly discuss a long-term approach to prevent this disaster.

Road ahead

The shutdown of Abbott’s manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Michigan, led to the production disruption in the US. However, the company has recently announced to restart the factor in two weeks as the company is waiting for approval from the Food and Drug Administration. It is expected that baby food will take 6-8 weeks to reach the retail stores. Panic buying and hoarding are expected to prevail in the market; the supply situation set to remain tight for the next quarter.

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