Parents across the country are facing a hard reality: stores are running out of baby formula. Lawmakers announced on Wednesday plans to hold hearings after supply disruptions and a massive safety recall caused a nationwide shortage.
Nationwide, around 40% of large retailers are out of stock of baby formula. That’s up from 31% in mid-April, according to Datasembly. More than half of U.S. states are seeing out-of-stock rates between 40-50%. Some retailers are now implementing purchase limits on baby formula.
Covid-19-related supply chain and workforce issues have caused spot-shortages of formula for months, and parents hoarding during lockdowns didn’t help. Abbott Laboratories, which was forced to close its largest U.S. formula manufacturing plant in February because of contamination concerns, initiated a safety recall and exacerbated existing problems. Abbott said on Wednesday a thorough investigation showed no connection between its formula and four cases of bacterial contamination in infants.
Baby formula is extremely vulnerable to manufacturing disruptions since only a handful of companies produce almost the entire U.S. supply.
On Tuesday, the FDA announced it was working with U.S. manufacturers to ramp up output and will streamline paperwork to allow more imports. White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Perre said it was a top priority to ensure baby formula is available amid the shortage.
A House of Representatives panel is scheduled to meet on May 25. The hearing will focus on the shortage’s causes, efforts to increase production, and what action is needed to “ensure access to safe formula across the nation,” according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-SC).
Pediatricians and health care workers are asking desperate parents who can’t find formula to contact food banks and doctor’s offices for help instead of watering down formula to stretch supplies or using DIY recipes found online.
“For babies who are not being breastfed, this is the only thing they eat,” Dr. Steven Abrams of the University of Texas, Austin said. “So, it has to have all of their nutrition and, furthermore, it needs to be properly prepared so that it’s safe for the smallest infants.”
Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories is increasing production at its other facilities to fill the gap left behind by the closing of the Sturgis, Michigan factory. Abbott said it could restart production within two weeks at the shuttered facility. However, it will take 6-8 weeks, and FDA approval, before products from the facility will return to shelves.
Reuters and AP contributed to this report.