US faces baby formula ‘crisis’ as shortage worsens
In reaction to a rising shortage of special milk, major US pharmacies have curtailed sales of infant formula.
Customers can now only buy a certain number of cans at a time at CVS and Walgreens, among other major retailers.
In February, Abbott, the maker of the top-selling Similac brand, closed a key production and issued a recall after discovering contamination.
The Biden administration is being pressed to respond to the situation.
Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican, has described the situation as a “national crisis” that the White House must handle.
Abbott, which supplies infant formula to several of the state government’s low-income women’s and children’s programmes, said it was working with regulators to reopen the plant.
In February, Abbott recalled some batches of powdered formula after allegations that four newborns who were fed from factory cans grew unwell, including two who died.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they were looking into a relationship but that testing so far had revealed that the bacteria found at the plant did not match that found in the affected babies.
According to research firm Datasembly, which tracks 11,000 stores throughout the US, the shortfall predates those concerns and has been accumulating since last year due to supply chain and other causes.
Last month, the situation worsened as word of the crisis spread and parents rushed to stock up.
According to Datasembly, the average out-of-stock percentage across the country had increased to 40% on April 24, up from just 30% a few weeks ago – and 11% in November.
According to Rudi Leuschner, head of Rutgers Business School’s master in supply chain management program, companies that make baby formula have problems catching up when demand fluctuates.
And as word spreads of empty shelves, parents will hurry to buy, he said. The problem will only get worse.
Overall, birth rates are declining, and in 2020, the United States will see its lowest birth rate ever. Breast milk intake has also been reported to be dropping in favour of infant formula, according to studies.