PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Federal lawmakers are urging manufacturers to step up and help ease the ongoing baby formula shortage, which has been exacerbated by inflation, supply chain disruptions and an expansive safety recall.
In a letter to Mardi Mountford, president of the Infant Nutrition Council of America, 32 senators called upon those manufacturers are “making every effort to mitigate this dangerous shortage and get children the nourishment they need.”
“This shortage has placed an unacceptable burden on parents and caregivers and has put the health of babies and infants at risk,” the senators wrote. “For many families, infant formula is critical for ensuring their children receive the nutrition they need to grow healthy and well-nourished.”
“This shortage has been especially challenging for some of the most vulnerable infants, with particularly acute shortages of specialty formulas to address health needs such as allergies, gastrointestinal issues or metabolic disorders,” the letter continues. “There is no easy substitute for infant formula, and this shortage has left families across the nation scrambling to figure out how they will safely care for their children.”
The current nationwide out-of-stock rate for baby formula currently stands at 43%, according to retail tracking firm Datasembly.
President Joe Biden has stepped up his administration’s response to the nationwide shortage by working directly with manufacturers, including Gerber and Reckitt, and retailers to figure out how to quickly and efficiently restock shelves across the country.
“We have to move with caution as well as speed because we have to make sure what we are getting is first-rate product,” Biden said.
Biden said his administration is also working with states to ensure that those who rely on WIC, a federal program like food stamps that serves women, infants and children, can purchase brand and size substitutes that the benefits otherwise wouldn’t cover.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reassured panicked parents Friday that the baby formula supply should improve over the coming weeks.
“Our data indicates that in stock rates in retail stores are stabilizing but we continue to work around the clock to further increase availability,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said.
Califf said the FDA plans to announce plans next week on how manufacturers and suppliers overseas can import their products into the country, “along with additional flexibilities for domestic manufacturers and suppliers.”
“This will include a streamlined process that will allow us to meet this urgent need,” Califf said. “FDA will work with these manufacturers and suppliers to ensure the products still meet certain safety, quality and labeling standards.”
The nationwide baby formula shortage was spurred by a safety recall involving Abbott Nutrition, one of the country’s top manufacturers.
“We know that the recall has worsened the industry-wide infant formula shortage, and we have been working to get as much product into the hands of parents as we can,” Abbott Nutrition said in a statement.
The company said it’s prioritizing the production of baby formula at its FDA-registered facility overseas, as well as its other facilities across the country that are unaffected by the recall.
“Our other manufacturing facilities are running at full capacity as we continue to prioritize production of infant formula to help replenish the supply in the market,” the company said.
Abbott Nutrition is also working on addressing the FDA’s concerns at its Michigan facility, which spurred the safety recall. Subject to FDA approval, the facility could be back up and running in two weeks, according to the company.
“We are confident that we can continue to produce safe, high-quality infant formula at all of our facilities as we have been doing for millions of babies around the world for decades,” the company said.
Other steps Abbott Nutrition is taking to address the shortage include offering an increased number and value of coupons available for all of its baby formulas to ensure parents can purchase it either for free or “deeply discounted.”
The U.S. Department of Human Health Services launched a baby formula fact sheet Friday, which provides resources for families looking to find formula in their area.