Overview of the unbelievable milk powder crisis in the US, let’s find out the cause.
Right now, one of the hardest items to find on grocery store shelves is one of the most important: baby formula. Shortages have left families across the country scrambling for one another. The most vulnerable will be hit hardest when there is a shortage of supply.
According to data company Datasembly, the rate of shortage of US milk powder reserves in the first half of 2021 is only about 2-8%. By early April 2022, that number had skyrocketed to 31%. At the beginning of May, 43% of baby formula at retail stores in the US was out of stock, a 20-fold increase from the first half of 2021.
According to a quote from The Atlantic, in many US states, including Texas and Tennessee, more than half of the formula in stores has been sold out. As parents began stocking up on infant formula, retailers like Walgreens, CVS and Target all moved to limit purchases.
Some parents, wanting to feed their babies, have tried to dilute infant formula or make their own. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) had to warn against mixing the wrong proportions or making your own milk.
Pediatricians are also sounding the alarm that nutrient deficiencies can be very serious and even catastrophic.
What causes milk powder shortage?
Milk shortages are not a new problem, but what has led to this becoming a crisis across the United States?
The first cause may be bacteria. In February, leading US infant formula maker Abbott ordered a product recall, after four infants were hospitalized with bacterial infections. Two of them died suspected of drinking powdered milk produced at the Sturgis, Michigan factory.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has investigated the manufacturer of infant formula Abbott. The investigation found traces of Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria in milk powder produced from a factory in Michigan. Parents are advised not to purchase or use certain infant formulas associated with this factory site.
Product recalls are common. Every year, thousands of drugs and products are recalled. But this did not create chaos at the pharmacy. So something strange is happening with the powdered milk recall.
That leads to the second cause which is the virus. The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the supply chain.
“In the spring of 2020, formula sales skyrocketed, as people stocked up on powdered milk just like they stock up on toilet paper,” said Lyman Stone, research director at consulting firm Demographic Intelligence.
Then, when families had stocked up, sales plummeted. This fluctuation makes production planning extremely difficult. As a result, suppliers have cut production until 2021.
Meanwhile, Stone’s research found a sharp increase in the number of births in early 2022, while the rate of breastfeeding fell sharply. This once again drives the demand for infant formula. Orders are growing faster than new supply has just recovered.
The third is the regulatory and trade policy of the US. Although this has not received much attention, it is possibly the most important cause of the crisis.
FDA regulations on formula are so strict that it is illegal to buy products made in Europe in the US. The reason may stem from inconsequential details such as labeling requirements.
One study found that many European infant formulas met FDA nutrition guidelines. In some respects, European formula may even be better than American formula, because the European Union bans certain sugars.
Even milk meets FDA requirements, US policy also restricts the import of this product. In large volumes, the import tax on formula milk can exceed 17%.
American policy also moves the industry in a different direction. The Department of Agriculture has a special group called WIC, which stands for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. WIC awarded contracts to a handful of companies producing infant formula.
When will this situation end?
According to Datasembly, Tennessee residents are facing the highest rate of out of stock. Meanwhile, dairy shelves in stores in Las Vegas, Houston and Charlotte are empty.
Those with enough means and ability are driving long distances to look for infant formula. They pay an outrageous price. But many low-income families find it difficult to do so
Some families do not have much cash on hand, so they cannot store formula. In many states, Abbott Nutrition is the only entity that helps low-income families receive benefits through WIC. That means parents looking to buy milk have to do the extra thing of contacting their local WIC office for alternatives or paying out of pocket.
Breastfeeding is not for everyone. For example, mothers with medical conditions or limited breast milk supply are dependent on infant formula. Mothers in the US after giving birth often have to rush back to work and are unable to breastfeed.
Due to FDA regulations, purchasing formula from other countries is largely beyond the reach of American consumers. The FDA will detail the expansion of infant formula imports and “additional flexibility” for domestic manufacturers and suppliers to have more formula on store shelves.
The FDA is also working with larger manufacturers such as Mead Johnson, Nestle, Danone and Perrigo to boost supply.
Some individuals are calling for federal action to break the monopoly of a few companies in the formula market. Senators like Booker, Warren and several others called for an immediate antitrust review.
The doctors also called for policy changes to better support breastfeeding mothers. The US is the only industrialized country that does not have a paid maternity leave policy. “It’s very difficult to successfully breastfeed your baby and still go back to work,” says Duggan. “There’s a lot that our government and policymakers can do to support breastfeeding families,” says Duggan. mother milk”.
“What we want to maximize is the total global capacity, flexibility and dynamism of the whole system,” suggests Scott Lincicome, economic and commercial director at the Cato Institute. important by having as much as possible in a flexible system that can replace one plant’s supply with another.”