It’s a parent’s nightmare. The US has been facing a severe shortage of baby formula milk for months and the problem is getting worse with the mass withdrawal of products from the market.
Empty shelves at CVS and Walgreens pharmacies and the Target supermarket are causing parents to panic in the US. Ten months ago, there was a shortage of powdered milk for babies and the difficulty in finding it has only increased. “I have known about these problems for almost seven months,” Sara Khan, a mother of three, told AFP. “This didn’t happen overnight.”
The situation worsened on February 17, when, after the deaths of two babies, manufacturer Abbott announced the voluntary withdrawal of formula milk from its Michigan plant, including Similac, a brand used by millions of American families. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the bacteria Cronobacter sakazakii “may have contributed to the cause of death.” However, production has yet to resume, exacerbating existing shortages caused by supply chain problems and labor shortages.
About one in four parents exclusively breastfeed their children until they are months old, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leaving the overwhelming majority of parents and caregivers at least partially dependent on formula. According to the agency “Datasembly”, 43% of the usual supply of formula milk was depleted, up 10% from the April average.
Few alternatives and not all of them work
Typically, hospitals and pediatricians give parents samples of formula milk to find out which one works best for their child. But few do. The formula should taste good and not cause problems, such as constipation, for children.
Olivia Espinosa and husband Steve Hohman, who live in San Diego, California, have two children. One of them, a three-week-old girl named Maya, is even more limited. “We have to just use a plant-based formula because we can’t try anything else,” Hohman said.
In addition to supply problems, parents are fighting price inflationas online sellers have doubled or even tripled prices.
Robert Califf, director of the FDA, highlighted the problem in a statement released Tuesday night. “We recognize that many consumers cannot access the infant formula and critical medical foods that they are used to,” he said. “We are doing everything in our power to ensure that there are suitable products available where and when they are needed.”
Republicans point the finger at Biden
The problem has even reached politics. “I called for action on Biden’s infant formula shortage months ago,” Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik accused on Twitter.
Marjorie Taylor Greene accused the US Congress of wanting to “send nearly $40 billion to Ukraine while American mothers can’t find infant formula”.
For her part, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told CNN that the US government is “working 24 hours a day” to address the shortage.