Congress must act now to prevent another baby formula shortage
The FDA has sent letters to three companies after they found serious code violations at their baby formula manufacturing facilities over the past few months. While it’s nice to see the federal government finally be proactive about the safety of the infant formula supply, parents can be forgiven for feeling nervous.
If any manufacturer is forced to shut down or recall products, we could see the supply chain disrupted like we did several times in the last two years, forcing families to go store to store looking for baby formula, or posting on social media, hoping to find formula others are willing to give away or ship from another state.
The precariousness of the situation once again shows why the U.S. needs to allow the sale of safe, highly-regulated formulas from other countries. This is why it’s so important to pass the bipartisan FORMULA 3.0 Act as quickly as possible.
Women need options because not all of us can breastfeed. Some use medication or illicit drugs that are not safe for an infant, others do not produce enough milk, some families have adopted or foster children, and a small percentage of babies cannot tolerate certain food proteins that come through their mother’s breast milk.
Current US tariff policies, supported by well-connected special interest groups like the dairy lobby, restrict these products from coming to market. That makes America vulnerable to supply shocks unlike any other place in the world, and also increases prices of infant formula by limiting supply and alternatives.
Advocates for dairy farmers argue that more competition in the formula market will force farms to close. But restricting European formulas has not saved the family dairy farm. On the other hand, opening up markets, allowing more types of formula to be manufactured, and forcing companies to compete just might, while making the supply safe, secure and functional for families across the country.
Soaring formula prices are no doubt hurting families who need to feed their children. But it’s also costing taxpayers a lot of money. The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program makes up half of all baby formula spending in the U.S.. Getting rid of tariffs could save taxpayers millions while giving moms more choices on the shelves.
It’s not just the supply itself, as critical as that is. We need European formulas because some have ingredients that are helpful for babies with medical conditions, like my son. Unfortunately what I learned over the last several years still remains true today: “If parents had more choice over the formula their children consumed, a physician could recommend different products for a child they believe is suffering from an allergic reaction or a more serious issue. But the market is so uniform that it’s nearly impossible to determine what component could be bothering the infant. Often, infants don’t get treated until much later, because it’s too difficult for doctors to determine what’s causing the discomfort.”
The FORMULA 3.0 Act will not solve every issue or, unfortunately, bring every type of formula that families need to our store shelves. This is because there is a significant disagreement between European and American agencies over the right level of iron, an important nutrient for baby’s growing brain that can also constipate him. But the FORMULA 3.0 Act will be a stopgap against future shortages, protect against hoarding, and help families whose little ones need more options in the formula space.
It’s important to remember that more than 80 percent of babies consume formula during the first year of their lives and, as one expert noted during the last major formula shortage, “… parents who emphatically fear the worst will overfill their cupboards with the products for fear of running out.”
We’re not just trying to lower costs and increase access to formula in the United States — we are trying to save lives, too.