President Biden spoke with major infant formula manufacturers on Thursday amid deep frustration and panic by caretakers over the nationwide shortage, announcing further administration measures to alleviate the current emergency. These include the ability for vulnerable families who rely on WIC benefits to purchase from a wider variety of formula options and the suppression of price cuts.
It is an encouraging step forward. The shortage, a potentially life-threatening scenario for countless children, had received little attention from lawmakers on either side of the aisle. (Until this week, many seemed completely oblivious that there was even a shortage.) But while it’s a relief to see the White House recognize the urgency of the situation, new actions appear limited and do little to answer the most pressing question facing families right now: when will we start seeing empty shelves stocked.
As a new mom relying on the formula to feed her seven month old baby, I couldn’t help but scratch my head at some of the proposals announced. For example, the administration indicated that it is talking to foreign trading partners about potential imports. but 98 percent of the formula is produced internally. So are the famous formula brands in Europe it cannot be sold in the United States and are highly discouraged by pediatricians. I know this because after buying the European brand Holle in the first days of my child’s life, when the pressure to bring him back to birth weight made breastfeeding incredibly difficult for me, I was immediately told not to use it because it wasn’t. approved by the FDA. I am grateful, in the midst of this shortage, that I never threw it away and would not hesitate to use it if my current stash of FDA approved formula runs out.
The announcement of increasing the number of formulated products that can be used under the WIC is critical and will certainly be welcomed by low-income families who have been unnecessarily burdened by the program’s restrictions. But the administration, as demonstrated by Thursday’s press conference at the White House, still does not seem to have a sufficient answer for caretakers struggling to secure a formula that goes beyond referral to a doctor. While calling the pediatrician might give answers to some, although I have struggled to believe they are capable of handing out tons of formulas at this point, many vulnerable families don’t have health insurance to go to a pediatrician.
I still have to ask myself how much of the current shortage could have been avoided if the government had intervened earlier. After all, the exhaustion rate formula for infant formula began to rise in early 2021, and then worsened significantly by the summer. Between November and April 2022, the rate jumped to aa a staggering 31 percent.
We hope to see further measures announced soon.