US infant formula shortage drives parents to despair May 11, 2022 World

Last Tuesday (10) Maricella Marquez gave her three-year-old daughter a smaller-than-usual portion of the infant formula a little girl needs to stay healthy – she suffers from a rare allergic disease of the esophagus.

The family lives on the outskirts of San Antonio, in south Texas, one of the cities hardest hit by the nation’s infant formula crisis, which has left American parents unsure how to feed their babies.

San Antonio sold out 56% of its usual inventory on Tuesday, according to software retailer Datasembly. In the predominantly Hispanic city, many mothers do not have health insurance and work in jobs that make it impossible for them to breastfeed. Shelves are nearly empty and NGOs are working to gain access to new products.

The shortage of infant formula this year was exacerbated by a brand recall after four babies were hospitalized with a bacterial infection and at least two died. The recall was exacerbated by ongoing supply chain problems as well as labor shortages. A Datasembly study found that the national infant formula market shortage rate reached 43% in the week ending Sunday, up 10% from April.

Republicans are taking advantage of the situation to criticize President Joe Biden, arguing that the administration has not done enough to increase production. On Tuesday, Senator Mitt Romney sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture saying that federal officials are taking too long to respond to the problem.

The FDA said officials are working with Abbott Nutrition, the company involved in the recall, to restart production at its plant in Sturgis, Michigan.

“We understand that many consumers cannot afford the infant formula and essential health products they are used to—and are disappointed,” FDA Commissioner Robert M. Kaliff said in a statement. “We do everything in our power to make sure the right products are available where and when they are needed.”

Many mothers say they restrict food. Some drive for hours for the mixture, but find empty shelves. Online sellers charge extortionate prices of two or three times the normal price, and large retail chains are out of stock.

Following the closure of Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis plant, other manufacturers have struggled to ramp up production quickly, according to Rudy Leushner, a professor of supply chain management at Rutgers Business School. “Some industries manage to decrease or increase production levels very quickly,” he says. “Just flip the switch and they will produce ten times their normal volume. But infant formula is not that kind of product.”

In addition to the more serious supply chain problems that emerged during the pandemic, such as labor shortages and difficulty accessing raw materials, the problem could be exacerbated by panic buying, Leuschner said.

Abbott Nutrition said it is doing everything it can, including increasing production at its other U.S. plants and importing products from its Irish division.

But for parents who are forced to give their little ones less food than they need, even a temporary shortage is terrible. Some search the internet for homemade recipes, but experts warn they may lack vital nutrients and even carry other risks.

“We also recommend that you don’t dilute the formula too much, as this can upset the baby’s nutritional balance,” says Kelly Bocanegra, federal program manager for Women, Babies and Children at Metro San Antonio. At the city children’s hospital, doctors are urging mothers of newborns to breastfeed their babies as often as possible and express more breast milk.

But some mothers are unable to breastfeed due to a lack of milk or other problems – many work in sectors such as retail or low-paying jobs and cannot afford the time needed for this care.

Others, such as Marisella Marquez, whose children need special diets, are also unable to breastfeed. According to Elise Bernal, president of the nonprofit Any Baby Can, in some cases, these parents have already struggled to pay for cans of baby formula, which can cost upwards of $100 apiece.

For Daris Brown, the shortage of specialized infant formula in Oceanside, California is so acute that she considered going to the hospital emergency room just to feed her 10-month-old daughter Octavia, who has rare genetic diseases that make her unable to eat solid food. “I was going crazy, crying on the floor. I told my husband: “I have nothing to feed our daughters, I don’t know what to do,” she says.

As of Tuesday, she still had four cans of Octavia formula – all from products on the recall list – and was trying to extend them by giving her smaller bottles.

Parents who have tried to buy formula online report not only facing higher prices, but also scams. Two weeks ago, K-Rae Knowles, 30, from Oregon, sent money to a stranger in exchange for cans of the special formula she needed for her four-month-old son, Callan. The banks did not come, and a few days later the seller’s Facebook profile was deleted.

Marisella Marquez said she never thought she would rely on the product to keep her daughter healthy, but after the child was diagnosed, doctors told her the special formula was the only thing that would keep her out of the hospital.

Since the beginning of April, she has been supplementing her daughter’s diet with fruits, vegetables, minced turkey and other vegetable proteins. “Besides that, she can’t eat anything else.”

Even when they are found, infant formula is expensive. Marquez’s health insurance covers 80% of the cost, but the family still has to pay $375 a month. She plans to spend this week trying out other products that vendors still have in stock and testing out which ones her daughter can tolerate. “I do not have any other choice”.

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