The supply chain issues that have been plaguing consumers for the past few years did not seem to drastically affect the stock of baby formula until the beginning of this year. According to a report by Datasembly, baby formula stocks for the first seven months of 2021 were relatively stable with out-of-stock rates (OOS) being around two to eight percent. However, by January of this year OOS levels had reached 23 percent, and continued to worsen with levels at 43 percent by the beginning of May. Inflation, along with the ongoing global supply chain shortages, have made it increasingly difficult for Wisconsin families to provide formula for their babies. Then, Abbott Nutrition, the largest infant formula manufacturer in the country, voluntarily recalledseveral lines of powdered formula including Similac®, Alimentum ® and EleCare® on February 17th – contributing further to the shortage.
This recall was due to concerns about bacterial contamination at their Sturgis, Michigan, facility after four infants fell ill and two died. Now it is increasingly difficult for parents to find specific formulas needed for babies and children who are most at risk to this shortage due to their special dietary needs. As a response, the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (NASPGHAN) created a list of substitutes for the recalled products in order to help parents who are looking for alternative infant formulas. NASPGHAN emphasizes that these substitutions should still be done under the recommendation and supervision of a healthcare professional. Since the Abbott recall, the Biden-Harris Administration along with the USDA and FDA have taken steps to ensure infant formula is safe and available for families across the country.
On May 18th, the House of Representatives passed bill H.R. 7790, the Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, a supplemental appropriations bill to provide $28 million in emergency funding to the FDA in order to address the shortage. The Biden Administration used the Defense Production Act to boost production of infant formula by prioritizing key ingredients for formula production and compel suppliers to provide the needed resources to formula manufacturers ahead of other consumer goods that may utilize the same ingredients. Along with this, President Biden has approved Operation Fly Formula, a mission in utilizing aircrafts to speed up the import of infant formulas abroad that meet U.S. health and safety standards and in so doing getting more of these formulas to stores as soon as possible.
But what can families in Wisconsin do right now? There is the state’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). This program provides supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, as well as to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk. Local WIC offices are a great resource for women in Wisconsin who need support while waiting for more infant formulas to become available.
Children’s Wisconsin has also made suggestions like utilizing WIC, contacting your pediatrician, dialing 2-1-1 for local resources for assistance, and reaching out to as well as supporting local food banks like Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin to help ensure families in need can get formulas. But what they and many other child health experts advise parents not to do is create their own formulas as they can miss the correct balance of key nutrients their baby needs, or add extra water to any formulas they currently have as it can harm the brain and organs of the baby. American Academy of Pediatrics also has a Q&A resource webpage for any questions or concerns parents may have in regards to this shortage crisis.