WASHINGTON, D.C. – From sleepless nights to last-minute diaper runs, everyone knows raising children is full of challenges. Unfortunately, millions of families are having to confront an unexpected source of frustration and anxiety – a nationwide baby formula shortage.
Many families rely on baby formula to keep their little ones fed and healthy. Access to formula is especially critical for children with allergies or specific health conditions.
The origins of the formula shortage can be traced back to a number of factors, including supply chain issues and labor shortages related to COVID-19. But when in February, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shut down an Abbott Nutrition formula plant due to unconfirmed contamination concerns, the lack of formula supply became a full-blown crisis.
Abbott is one of four companies in the U.S. that produce 90% of our nation’s baby formula, and its Michigan plant is estimated to supply roughly 20% of the nation’s baby formula alone. Families’ demand for formula did not change following the plant’s shutdown. But even though the agency required the plant to temporarily close down, the FDA had no comprehensive plan in place to offset the drop in production that eventually led to empty shelves in stores.
According to Datasembly, which provides access to grocery pricing records, the nationwide out-of-stock rate for baby formula is around 43%. As of May 1st, eight states and the District of Columbia had out-of-stock rates over 50%. There is no question that the urgency of this crisis demands immediate attention.
Working across the aisle in the Senate, I’ve taken a series of actions to help address the baby formula shortage.
First, I cosponsored the Access to Baby Formula Act, which would help ensure families who rely on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) can buy affordable formula. The bill does this by giving the Department of Agriculture, which oversees WIC, the authority to be more flexible during a crisis like the one currently facing our country.
This flexibility will stop restrictions on what brand or type of formula families that qualify for the program can buy, allowing families to purchase whatever is available in the store. The legislation also requires that manufacturers that provide formula for WIC babies have a plan in place to respond to future shortages.
The Senate recently passed this bipartisan bill unanimously and President Biden signed it into law on May 21st.
I’ve also joined my colleagues in demanding answers from the FDA on why the agency was unable to mitigate this crisis in the first place. The public deserves answers on when the White House was made aware of the dire situation and why steps weren’t taken to stop the shortage from spiraling out of control.
With the passage of the Access to Baby Formula Act, and announcements from the FDA and Abbott that they are aiming to reopen the Michigan plant soon, I’m hopeful that things are moving in the right direction.
During this shortage, it’s important that families stay in close contact with their pediatrician and do not dilute their formula to make it last longer. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that while recipes on social media may appear legitimate, homemade formula can be dangerous and is not recommended.
Please know that my staff and I will continue to follow this issue very closely. I remain committed to taking the necessary steps to mitigate this crisis.