On Thursday, President Joe Biden addressed a nationwide baby formula shortage, which has forced some frenzied parents into online groups to swap and sell to each other to keep their babies fed.
Biden faced criticism for acting too slowly, misdirecting scarce resources, and failing to provide transparency.
The president discussed with executives from Gerber and Reckitt how they could increase production and how his administration could help, and talked with leaders from Walmart and Target about how to restock shelves and address regional disparities in access to formula, the White House said.
The administration plans to monitor possible price gouging and work with trading partners in Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands on imports, even though 98% of baby formula is domestically made.
“We recognize that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country, something the president is very focused on and we’re going to do everything we can to cut red tape and take steps to increase supply,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
Biden, in a Thursday letter to the Federal Trade Commission, pressed the independent agency to “bring all of the Commission’s tools to bear” to investigate and act in response to reports of fraud or price gouging as a result of the supply disruptions.
“It is unacceptable for families to lose time and spend hundreds of dollars more because of price gougers’ actions,” he wrote to FTC Chair Lina Khan.
However, not everyone is happy with the administration’s actions. Some Republicans have characterized Biden’s response as slow and mistargeted.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., slammed Biden for failing to provide a timeline… and for limiting the press coverage of his event.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, criticized the Biden administration for allegedly providing baby formula to babies in detention at the U.S.-Mexico border. The immigration agencies are required to provide detainees with adequate food, according to a 1997 settlement.
Take a look —
Is the Biden Administration going to tell us when they will allow the major baby formula producing plant to reopen, or just continue laughing it off
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) May 12, 2022
Sure. Because the American people don’t need to hear about the baby formula shortage – that’s the Biden line https://t.co/Sz6lNlQC7o
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) May 12, 2022
As parents face the nightmare of a nationwide formula shortage, the Biden Administration is happy to provide baby formula to illegal immigrants coming across the southern border.
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) May 12, 2022
Millions of babies in the U.S. rely on formula, which is the only source of nutrition recommended for infants who aren’t exclusively breastfed.
Mothers face a number of challenges to long-term breastfeeding, including returning to work and finding the time and equipment needed to pump breast milk. About 60% of mothers stop breastfeeding sooner than they had planned, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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However, the shortage is weighing particularly on lower-income families after the recall by formula maker Abbott, stemming from contamination concerns. The recall wiped out many brands covered by WIC, a federal program like food stamps that serves women, infants and children, though the program now permits brand substitutes. The Biden administration is working with states to make it easier for WIC recipients to buy different sizes of formula that their benefits might not currently cover.
About half of infant formula nationwide is purchased by participants using WIC benefits, according to the White House.
Among them is Elizabeth Amador of Utah, a working mother who spoke to the Associated Press Thursday.
Amador has been going store-to-store every day after her shift at a call center in Salt Lake City in desperate search of one particular formula her 9-month-old daughter needs. She recently was down to only one can, but had four cans on Thursday. She said she won’t stop her cumbersome daily routine until she knows the shortage is over.
“It sucks, you know because of high gas prices,” Amador said. “We’re having to drive everywhere to find formula. It’s stressing.”
Clara Hinton, 30, of Hartford, Connecticut, is also among that group. She has a 10-month-old daughter, Patiennce, who has an allergy that requires a special formula.
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Hinton, who has no car, has been taking the bus to the suburbs, going from town to town, and finally found some of the proper formula at a box store in West Hartford. But she said the store refused to take her WIC card, not the first time that has happened.
Hinton said her baby recently ran out of formula from an already opened can she got from a friend.
“She has no formula,” she said. “I just put her on regular milk. What do I do? Her pediatrician made it clear I’m not supposed to be doing that, but what do I do?”
The Associated Press issued some recommendations for families struggling with the shortage.
Take a look —
Talk with your pediatrician or call a local food bank to see if they can help locate some options. Experts also recommend checking with smaller stores and pharmacies, which may still have supplies when larger stores run out.
Most regular baby formulas contain the same basic ingredients and nutrients, so parents shouldn’t hesitate to buy a different brand if they’re having trouble finding their regular one.
Some infants require specialty formulas due to allergies, digestive problems and other medical conditions. Parents should talk to their doctor if they can’t find those products, which manufacturers usually distribute through pharmacies and clinics.
Families that qualify for WIC — a federal program similar to food stamps that pays for about half the formula used in the U.S. — can also contact their local agency.
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Health officials also warn against buying formula via social media websites or outside of conventional retailers because they could be counterfeit.
Experts have also advised parents against substituting infant milk for toddler milk, according to AP. Toddler milk does not adhere to the same FDA standards as infant formula.
Relatedly, medical professionals have discouraged parents from using the make-your-own-formula recipes found online.
Many do-it-yourself formula recipes are made from cow’s milk and granular sugar that may be difficult for young babies to digest. They also lack the specific vitamins and proteins found in breastmilk and FDA-approved formulas that are needed for basic nutrition.
“Particularly for small babies, many of these formulas and mixtures that are found online don’t contain even the most basic nutrient mixes that babies need to survive,” said Dr. Steven Abrams, a pediatrician at the University of Texas, Austin.
Abrams also stressed that parents should never dilute infant formula.
Health regulators recently announced several steps designed to boost supply, including allowing faster importation of formula made overseas. Typically, 98% of baby formula consumed in the U.S. is made domestically, according to federal officials.
Meanwhile, state and federal laws have been enacted to encourage breastfeeding by requiring break time and accommodations for mothers of infants.
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The FDA is working with Abbott to fix the violations that triggered the shutdown of its Michigan plant, which produces Similac, EleCare and several other leading powdered formulas.
The company says its products have not been directly linked to the bacterial infections in children, pointing out that genetic samples collected from its factory did not match those found in several infants who got sick.
The Chicago-based company said this week that, pending FDA approval, it could restart manufacturing at its plant within two weeks. After that it would take another six to eight weeks before new products hit store shelves.
But even then, experts caution that many of the industrywide issues will continue to restrain supplies.
“This is going to be a problem and it’s not going away for at least a period of several months,” Abrams said.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.