Why can’t you find formula for your baby? Lockdowns and the FDA

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a post in a Facebook group for residents of my neighborhood where a desperate mother was asking if anyone knew a store that had baby formula. She was all out, her baby was hungry, and she had been driving from store to store all day looking for formula, without success.

It turns out that the baby formula shortage is ‘a thing.’ At the weekend, the Star Tribune carried a story titled “Minnesota parents still struggling to find infant formula amid shortages“:

Parenting infant twins born prematurely was already a challenge before Cassandra Solberg faced a new, unexpected stressor: finding much-needed formula to feed her 3-month-old babies.

“Every store I would go to would only have one or two cans,” she said. “After that then it started being non-existent. I started calling the stores … they started saying ‘We don’t know when we’re going to get it in. We’re having issues getting it in.'”

As local parents stare down near-empty shelves, some major retailers, including Target, are limiting how much formula consumers can buy each visit.

The scene hearkens back to the empty toilet paper shelves at the start of the pandemic — but with far more serious consequences. Formula is the only source of nutrition for many infants, especially those born prematurely or whose mothers are unable to breastfeed.

What is going on? The Wall Street Journal explains:

There are two reasons for the shortage. Supply chain issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have made baby formula harder to find for months. The shortage worsened after Abbott Laboratories, a major formula manufacturer, voluntarily recalled some products and closed a plant where the products were made in Sturgis, Mich. 

The Food and Drug Administration is investigating consumer complaints related to four infants who were hospitalized, two of whom died. A fifth complaint was also filed, but the FDA said there wasn’t enough information available to definitively link the illness to the recalled formula.

The agency said cronobacter sakazakii, a germ that can be deadly in infants, was detected in the Sturgis plant, but not in the products. The FDA said in a statement that findings during its inspection raised concerns that powdered formula made at the Sturgis plant carried a risk of contamination. 

So the causes of the formula shortage are COVID-19 lockdowns and the FDA.

The FDA has shown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that it is at least as much a hindrance to public health as it is a help. Lockdowns were policies enacted for very little — if any — benefit at a cost that can, as yet, only be guessed at. What is sure is that it will be young Americans who bear the majority of those costs, as the formula shortage shows once again.