Storage shelves are no longer lacking, but baby food is still lacking

More than six months after one of the largest baby formula factories in the United States issued a recall and then closed over contamination concerns, essential supplies for babies are still around.

In many parts of the country, parents and their families are scrambling to find precious boxes of formula for their babies and many major retailers are still out of stock of popular brands. . Some companies like Walmart and Target are limiting the number of containers that can be purchased at one time.

While the situation has improved since mid-July, out-of-stock figures for infant formula on store shelves at the end of August remained at 23%, still 10% higher than before the recall and closure, according to the report. Fox is based in Chicago. market research firm IRI.

“It all depends on the geography and the retailer,” said Brian Dittmeier, senior director of public policy at the National WIC Consortium, a nonprofit organization. The WIC program provides nutritional support to women, infants and children, and accounts for about half of formula use in the country. “There are some places,” said Mr. Dittmeier, “where the supply of baby formula is healthy and others are not.”

But even as the scarcity subsides, parents and carers say the federal Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the formula industry, is not doing enough to address the problems. Systematic problems caused by the closure of the Abbott Nutrition manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Mich., caused shortages across the country.

The outage comes after infections were reported in four infants – two of whom died – who consumed factory-made formula. On February 17, two days after the shutdown, Abbott recalled three batches of powdered formula due to complaints of serious bacterial contamination. (Abbott has said that there is no “compelling evidence” to link the company’s formulas to disease.) That disruption makes it clear that Americans depend on certain formula manufacturers such as: and the Biden administration figured out how to make more products available on its own.

The FDA says it is currently receiving weekly updates from domestic manufacturers and has arranged for nearly 18.9 million cans of formula to be brought in from abroad. “Is there enough recipe to go around? The answer is yes, there are enough formulations here,” said FDA commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf. “We just need to keep working to improve delivery. However, he notes that it will take several more months for consumers to see the mass of formulas on store shelves available at the start of the year.

While two other domestic manufacturers, Reckitt Benckiser, which makes the popular Enfamil formula, and Perrigo, which makes generic formula for retailers, ramped up production at their factories, The FDA also eased some restrictions on imports. The result is an avalanche of applications from manufacturers worldwide.

The US market, estimated at $2 billion to $4 billion annually, is notoriously difficult for foreign formula companies, due to regulatory and tariff barriers.

While foreign formula is only temporarily allowed into the United States, ending around November 14, the FDA said it will publish guidance this month on how new companies can resume sales in the United States. United States this fall. .

“Parents in the US were looking for a better product than what they were being offered,” said Will McMahon, one of the family members who own the British Kendamil formula. The company has spent the past three years working through the formal process, including clinical trials, needed to get an FDA-approved organic infant formula.

Kendamil was one of the earliest formula companies to get FDA approval after the Sturgis factory closed and the company began sending two million cans of formula to the United States.

But some parents argue that relying on foreign manufacturers is not a long-term solution. Christine Robinson, whose 8-month-old son is formula-fed, said: “It baffles me that supply chains are so fragile and can be so severely disrupted.

Ms. Robinson said she was concerned that relying on non-US brands could lead to problems for infants with sensitive digestive systems that aren’t easily changed once US suppliers could increase production and phase out foreign formulas.

Ms. Robinson, of Bucks County, Pa., said she wants the FDA to streamline the approval of new brands of US-made formula to diversify the market.

The FDA has allowed more than a dozen companies outside the US to ship more than 18 million cans of formula into the US, a combination of established manufacturers like Danone and Nestle in Europe but also small companies. lesser known ones such as Global Kosher, based in the UK, and Care A2+, an Australian company that started operations in October 2020.

But other larger global manufacturers that already have formulas to ship have been left out. Some, like Organic-Family GmbH, a unit of Swiss company Holle, say they have not received an update from the FDA about their application. Thorben Nilewski, managing director at GmbH, said in an email, “It doesn’t seem like our offer or position is really interested at this point.” And shares of Australian formula maker A2 Milk Company fell in early August after the agency said the FDA had announced it was “delaying further review” of its application to import infant formula into the United States. .

In an emailed statement, the FDA said the letters sent to the companies do not mean that their formulations are unsafe, but that there are problems that may not be resolved quickly.

Susan Mayne, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the FDA, said in an interview: “There are many reasons why certain infant formulas may be not improved. “The key criterion for us is whether the manufacturer has immediate availability of formula because our goal is to get the formula on the shelves as quickly as possible.”

Priority is also given to applications from manufacturers that can supply medical and specialty formulations, she added. She said the agency is still reviewing applications.

At the end of August, Abbott said it was prepared to resume production of Similac formula at its plant in Sturgis.

The company also said it has increased production at other US-based manufacturing plants and one in Ireland, and will supply the US with more than 8 million pounds of formula in August, up from a year earlier. before. But it notes that it will take six weeks for Similac products from the Sturgis factory to start hitting store shelves.

However, some industry experts say it will take a long time for Abbott to regain the market share it once had. Mr. Dittmeier of the WIC program said: “Honestly, there are a lot of consumers who don’t trust Similac right now.

That could be a boon for Reckitt Benckiser, which has been running its formula factories over the summer, hoping to keep the market share it has gained at Abbott’s expense. Robert Cleveland, who oversees the Mead Johnson nutrition business at Reckitt, said its market share has grown to nearly 60% from 35% before the recall.

“We remain committed to making as much formula as we can,” said Cleveland. “We continue to maximize our domestic production, overtime and 24/7 operations.” He added that the company has received approval to bring in infant formula from its factories in Singapore and specialty formula from its facilities in Mexico.

However, it was late August when Lori Sharp, a first-time mother in Port Hueneme, California, realized she had bought a carton of Reckitt’s Enfamil Sensitive infant formula for her 3-month-old daughter. My formula milk is out of stock. on

Panicked, she searched more sites and broadened her geographical reach. She eventually discovered a carton of formula at Target 40 minutes away in Moorpark, California. “I went into the store and they actually had four more, but their shelves were so empty,” Ms. Sharp said. “I bought them all.”

In Georgia, some of the most severe shortages are in rural areas. Jennifer Kelly, family services manager at Early Head Start in Swainsboro, halfway between Macon and Savannah, says trying to find a recipe earlier this summer has become a “daily chore.”

The 14 babies she tracks drink seven different types of formula. She and her staff often drive to Walmart, Walgreens or a local grocery chain, or scour Amazon for some lesser-known brands.

“It’s not like it was a few months ago when the shelves were empty,” Ms. Kelly said. “I hope we’re on the other side of this dilemma.”

When formula shortages reached crisis levels in May, Ms. Robinson of Bucks County, Pa., created a Facebook group connecting parents across the country. The group, called Formula Hunters, does not exchange money to prevent profiteers from hoarding formula and trying to resell it at a premium.

The group works on the notion that one parent who buys a hard-to-find brand of formula and sends it to another parent in the group will eventually be reimbursed when others do the same to them.

Formula Hunters currently has 1,500 members, who are still actively helping each other define the recipe. “This has been going on for months,” Ms. Robinson said. “Disappointment has been very high.”

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