Eight Democratic senators wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday, calling on him to do more to address corporate concentration within the infant formula industry as the United States suffers from a shortage of baby formula.
The letter, which was led by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), noted that close to 90 percent of the infant formula market is dominated by four companies: Perrigo, Mead Johnson, Abbott Nutrition and Gerber.
“Unfortunately, this puts our most vulnerable populations at risk, and disproportionately impacts low-income families who rely on programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC),” the senators wrote.
The senators said that WIC purchases an estimated 50 to 66 percent of baby formula in the U.S., and through its sole-contracting model, has only purchased formula from Gerber, Mead Johnson and Abbott Nutrition.
According to an economic research report published on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website in 2011, states use a sole-contracting model to reduce the program’s cost.
But the senators urged for USDA to consider multi-source contracts and other ways to give those participating in WIC better access to formula and increasing market competition.
“To be clear, we do not believe the WIC program is responsible for the current shortages felt across the nation, but we are concerned that the sole-source contract model may be contributing to concentration in the market,” the senators wrote.
“Under normal circumstances, this does not pose any immediate threats to the ability of families to provide nutrition to their babies and infants, but in the midst of a shock to the supply chain, it is clear that the current level of concentration has created a fragile system unable to meet the needs of vulnerable consumers.”
In addition to Booker, Klobuchar and Duckworth, the other signatories of the letter were Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Tina Smith (Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.)
The nation is suffering a shortage of baby formula, sprung in part due to labor shortages, supply chain issues and a recall of Abbott Nutrition products, among other woes.
The senators’ letter follows a request that Duckworth made to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan regarding studying the baby formula industry, according to Politico.
The Hill has reached out to USDA for comment.