Yesterday the Senate approved a bill to address the baby formula shortage in America. The bipartisan bill passed unanimously and was co-sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).
A recall and safety-related closure of the biggest infant formula manufacturer in the U.S. led to a country-wide shortage when major brands suddenly disappeared from shelves.
Exacerbating the issue is skyrocketing prices for the remaining formula, which is out of reach for mothers who rely on government assistance.
The new legislation requires manufacturers of baby formula to plan for shortages and make sure mothers and babies who rely on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have access to the formula they need.
Nearly half of all baby formula sold in the U.S. is through the WIC, a government assistance program. Participants in the program receive vouchers that can be redeemed for supplemental foods including baby formula.
The vouchers, however, could only be used for one brand of formula. The new bill will extend coverage to other manufacturers so parents can use vouchers to purchase any brand that is readily available.
Parents have been frantically trying to find alternative infant formula since the recall, and now “millions of parents will have an easier time finding the formula they need,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
The Biden administration said the Defense Department will book military and commercial aircraft to fly in hundreds of pallets of FDA approved baby formula from abroad in the coming days in an effort dubbed ‘Operation Fly Formula.’
The White House said "Bypassing regular air freighting routes will speed up the importation and distribution of formula and serve as an immediate support as manufacturers continue to ramp up production." But it could take weeks before store shelves are restocked.
Such measures are similar to those undertaken in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to give baby formula manufacturers first priority and access to critical supplies, which started dwindling along with pandemic-related production dips and supply chain blockages.
Ninety-eight percent of infant formula available in the United States is also produced in the country. Nationwide, up to 40-50 percent of large retailers are out of stock, according to data analytics firm Datasembly.
The shuttered Abbott Laboratories plant will reopen in the coming weeks but the company says it could take 8-10 weeks before store shelves are stocked again.
Social media has highlighted the desperation of American parents who have taken to making baby formula at home, with posts detailing how to do so being shared thousands of times.
Pediatricians, however, warn against making formula at home, saying homemade formula won’t meet the nutritional needs of babies and can even make them sick.