A nationwide shortage of baby formula has been at the top of the news cycle in the U.S. for weeks now as parents stress and struggle to find the products to feed their children.
The infant formula first started disappearing from store shelves due to supply chain issues and a massive recall of products produced by one of the top companies.
Abbott Nutrition was shut down by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which cited unsafe practices after the deaths of two babies who contracted a rare bacterial illness, although it is not clear that the illness was obtained by using the product.
Lawmakers have scrambled to investigate the issue while the FDA and Abbott Nutrition, under a deal to restart operations, are working to quickly get baby formula back on the shelves.
Here is the latest news you need to know about the baby formula shortage:
Abbott Nutrition faces blame, says deal reached to restart factory
Baby formula manufacturer Abbott Nutrition has faced intense scrutiny from lawmakers over the shortages.
“Fundamentally, we are here because a company was not able to guarantee that its plant was safe, and that plant has shut down,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said on “Face the Nation.”
“Let’s be very clear. This is a capitalist country. The government does not make baby formula, nor should it. Companies make formula, and one of those companies — a company which, by the way, seems to have 40 percent market share — messed up and is unable to confirm that a plant, a major plant, is safe and free of contamination,” he added.
The factory has been shut down for three months after the FDA found five different strains of Cronobacter in the company’s Michigan factory, although the company argues the strains are different from the ones that affected the two infants that died.
Abbott Nutrition announced Monday they have reached a deal with the FDA that as long as the company meets the initial requirements of the FDA’s reopening terms, the factory can begin producing baby formula.
The exact details of the steps the company will take to ensure food safety were not released and Abbott Nutrition said the deal still must be approved by a judge.
Once the deal is approved and the conditions are met, it will take two weeks to start the factory back up and six to eight weeks to get previous amounts of baby formula back on the shelves.
FDA gives new guidelines to combat formula shortage
The FDA announced Monday it is loosening restrictions on baby formulas in order to get more product on the shelves.
For the next 180 days, companies that don’t normally sell baby formula in the U.S. but manufacture it and send it abroad will be able to get their products in stores.
The companies must send over information to the FDA for the agency to review and make sure packaging is in English so the instructions can be read.
“We’ve set up a mechanism that streamlines the ability for companies that do not normally sell infant formula in this country to do so. And it provides other flexibilities to domestic distributors who can help increase availability,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said.
The U.S. has different regulatory standards for baby formulas than other countries.
“We’re casting a broad net. We are seeking manufacturers from around the globe who have available product that could meet our regulatory standards for both nutrition and food safety — to reach out to us let us know what they have available and we can discuss with them what that might look like to get that product into the U.S.,” Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said.
What to do if there’s no formula on the shelf
American Academy of Pediatrics released a list of guidelines to follow in urgent situations when a person can’t find baby formula for their children.
Among the recommendations is to check smaller stores that are used less, buy formula online, switch to an available baby formula if the baby does not have specific food guidelines and check social media groups that are looking to help parents find formula.
The website advised parents against watering down baby formula to make it last longer, making their own baby formula and using plant-based milk.
In dire situations, the group says that cow’s milk can be used for a short period of time, premature baby formula can be used to feed full-term babies and goat’s milk, which is not approved in the U.S. but in other countries, may be used.
Military bases affected by baby food shortage
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said Monday the infant formula shortage is also affecting those at U.S. military bases around the world.
“We’re not immune to the same supply chain problems that other families across America are experiencing,” Kirby said.
The Defense Commissary Agency is “doing everything they can to keep things on the shelf as best they can” by “working daily with distributors.”
In the U.S., baby formula stock levels are at 50 percent at U.S. bases and 70 percent at bases overseas.
“The Defense Commissary Agency is already ahead of that problem and doing everything they can do to keep things on the shelf,” Kirby said. “We obviously take it very, very seriously, our responsibility to make sure that the kinds of things families need to take care of themselves to feed their children.”