Parents across the country are finding it increasingly difficult to get their hands on formula for their infants and toddlers these days. Although manufacturers say they haven’t slowed down their production, they haven’t been able to keep up with families’ demands. According to reports from Datasembly, seven states had out-of-stock rates greater than 40 percent during the week of April 3. And three metro areas, Des Moines, Minneapolis and San Antonio, had out-of-stock rates greater than 50 percent. And as parents begin to panic, retailers, including CVS, Walgreens and Target, have started implementing purchase limits to control their supply.
While the formula shortage impacts many U.S. families, Black families could be among the hardest hit. That’s because more Black families depend on infant and toddler formulas than other racial groups. According to data from the CDC, 69 percent of Black mothers initiate breastfeeding with their newborns, compared to over 85 percent of white mothers. And only 36 percent of Black mothers continue breastfeeding exclusively when their infants reach three months of age, meaning they depend on formula as a nutritional supplement. When it comes to white mothers, 53 percent breastfeed exclusively at three months.
Inflation, pandemic-related supply chain issues and product recalls have combined to create the formula shortage. The FDA shut down an Abbott Nutrition plant in Michigan in February after recalling three brands of powdered formula. The agency warned parents to avoid Similac, Alimentum and EleCare brands due to possible bacterial infections, including salmonella, which led to the hospitalization of four babies.
And the problem may not get better any time soon. “We expect to continue to see the baby formula category being dramatically affected by these conditions. Baby formula stock, which has been one of the more affected categories so far in 2022, and one that will continue to demonstrate higher than average out-of-stock levels,” said Datasembly founder and CEO Ben Reich.
With a crisis like this affecting the health and wellbeing of so many children in this country, you’re right to wonder what the government is doing about it. ABC News reports that President Biden spoke with representatives from leading retailers and formula manufacturers, including Target, Walmart and Gerber this week to discuss ways to get more formula to families who need it. And according to CNN, two House committees are stepping in to learn more about what’s behind the problem. The Oversight and Reform Committee has issued letters to four formula companies to get more information on the supply chain issues. Energy and Commerce will hold a formula hearing on May 25, where they will ask representatives from the FDA and Abbott Nutrition to testify.