FDA Dedicates "All Available Resources" To Fix The Infant Formula Shortage It Created
Naturally, Things Have Just Gotten Worse
It’s time to update Ronald Reagan.
Before conservatives burn me alive with copies of the Constitution for such political heresy, I merely mean to suggest that we now have a new “nine most terrifying words in the English language”. Thanks to the execrable efforts of the ludicrously incompetent Biden regime, we have devolved from “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” to “The FDA will continue to dedicate all available resources….”
The latter is an assurance proffered by the FDA in its most recent update on its “around-the-clock” efforts to fix the infant formula shortage.
But then, what else can one expect when the FDA makes delusional statements such as this:
The agency’s around-the-clock work as part of the all-of-government efforts has already begun to improve supply and availability. The agency expects that the measures and steps it is taking, and the potential for Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis, Michigan, facility to safely resume production in the near-term, will mean more and more supply is on the way or on store shelves moving forward.
Improved Supply And Availability?
While the FDA is claiming improved “supply and availability” of infant formula, other sources tell a different story.
Grocery and retail data analytics firm Datasembly reports the nationwide out-of-stock rates for infant formula last week was 73.58%
For the week of May 22-May 29, the out-of-stock rate for baby formula jumped to 73.58% nationwide, according to recent data by analytics firm Datasembly. This is nearly 4% higher than last week and is a significant increase from two weeks ago when the out-of-stock rate stood at 45%.
Market research firm IRI independently reports out-of-stock rates for powdered formula for the US averaged 22.8% for the week of May 22.
Nationally, 23% of powdered baby formula was out of stock in the week ended May 22, compared with 21% during the previous week, according to the latest figures from market-research firm IRI. In the first week of January and before the recall of formula produced by Abbott Laboratories, 11% of powdered baby formula was out of stock because of pandemic-related supply-chain shortages and inflation. Before the pandemic, the normal out-of-stock range for powdered formula was 5% to 7%, according to IRI.
While the absolute percentages of the two metrics differ, both agree on the basic trend: the infant formula shortage has been getting steadily worse even after the Biden regime and the FDA began their “around-the-clock” efforts to fix the problem they created.
I am uncertain on what planet the head of the FDA spends most of his time, but here on Earth an “improved” supply and availability of infant formula would entail that IRI graph bending downward, not constantly rising upward. If that chart is FDA Director Dr. Robert Califf’s notion of "improving” supply and availability, prepare for a spike in infant mortality from starvation.
No, I am not exaggerating. I wish I was.
An “improved” supply and availability of infant formula would mean Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis plant was well past the “potential” phase of restarting production. “Improved” supply and availability would mean that plant was churning out formula and speeding it on its way to retailers around the country, not hopefully starting production this coming weekend.
An “improved” supply and availability of infant formula would mean that the FDA’s efforts would have already brought the out-of-stock rate down, and that it has not done.
The FDA will continue to dedicate all available resources to help ensure that safe and nutritious infant formula products remain available for use in the U.S. and will keep the public informed of progress updates.
An “improved” supply and availability of infant formula would mean that considerably less than the near three-quarters of that supply was not missing from store shelves.
Following the data, we are not seeing improvement in supply and availability of infant formula in the United States.
Imported Formula To Be Sold Online—Out Of The Reach Of WIC Recipients
The catalyst for the FDA’s exercise in unreality was its announcement of its latest “additional steps” taken to make more infant formula available in the United States: an arrangement to import some 249,500 cans of Nestlé NAN Supreme Pro 1 and Nestlé NAN Supreme Pro 2 formula, which is expected to take place during June and July, and will be available for purchase online.
Availability: Expected June and July – the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is evaluating options for getting the products to the U.S. as quickly as possible.
More Information and Where to Find the Products: Expected to be sold on Gerber.com and through other online retailers.
There is, however, one small monkeywrench to be thrown into this finely tuned import mechanism: recipients of nutritional assistance through the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) welfare programs cannot shop online.
This particular obstacle was highlighted by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) last week, when he called for US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to allow WIC purchases to be made online (WIC is a program run by the US Department of Agriculture).
WIC — the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — is used by families of children younger than 5 years. While SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — can be used online to buy formula, WIC can’t.
Blumenthal sent a letter to Tom Vilsack, U.S. secretary of agriculture, on Monday, saying that more than half of the infant formula in the country is purchased through WIC.
While Senator Blumenthal is to be commended for making recommendations to streamline purchasing by WIC recipients (yes, I am praising a Democrat…irony abounds), his recommendation unfortunately does little to address the immediate shortage, despite his pretense otherwise.
He added that if Vilsack makes the decision to allow WIC usage online, it would take effect immediately.
Contrary to his assertion, it takes a wee bit more than a decision by Secretary Vilsack to make online shopping for infant formula—or any other WIC approved products—a reality. USDA approval is only the first step in what has to happen to enable online purchases by WIC recipients.
A key constraint on the WIC program is that its benefits may only be used to purchase certain food items. The list of eligible products varies by state—while the WIC program is funded through the USDA, actual administration of the program is handled by individual state agencies.
As a result, if one goes to the Gerber.com website and views the current list of WC-approved baby foods for a given state—Texas, for example—Nestlé NAN Supreme Pro 1 and Nestlé NAN Supreme Pro 2 formula do not appear. Gerber, as well as every other infant formula vendor, would have to update their online shopping databases to reflect the addition of currently unlisted infant formula products to the approved list.
Additionally, the online shopping portals operated by Gerber and other infant formula vendors have to be updated to allow for the processing of WIC benefits. Gerber’s current shopping cart system allows for credit cards, but not WIC cards.
While many WIC programs use electronic cards (known as EBT cards) to disburse benefits, those cards typically lack the expiration date and CVV information that are de rigueur for credit and debit cards, as the prototypical Texas WIC card illustrates:
Before actual online shopping by WIC recipients can be made reality, online vendors have to update their systems to allow for EBT cards to be processed. That requires software programming, and that takes time.
Having spent a quarter century in information technology, I am intimately familiar with the tongue-in-cheek irony of the expression "it’s a simple matter of programming”. What is conceptually simple is frequently logistically complex. It is never “immediate”.
As a result, this “around-the-clock” effort by the FDA to import infant formula and making it available through online retailers will result in the imported formula remaining outside the reach of WIC recipients—who account for more than half of all infant formula purchases in the United States.
If we were not talking about infants starving for lack of food—and let us not lose sight of the reality that the infant formula shortage means no food for baby—this exercise in bureaucratic ineptitude would be darkly comical. Because we are talking about hungry babies, this is instead merely appalling.
More Breastfeeding Might Be A Solution…Tomorrow
In the long term, this infant formula fiasco might have an arguably beneficial result in improving awareness of—and support for—breastfeeding.
"If we did more to support breastfeeding, we wouldn't be in this mess," says Dr. Melissa Bartick, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
There is no denying the substantial truth of this proposition. If more infants were fully breastfed, fewer infants would depend on formula, and by any metric the magnitude of this problem would be reduced.
However, as I noted in my first diatribe on this subject, a significant portion of infants are never breastfed at all, and the majority of infants are fed at least some formula practically from the moment of birth.
Those infants need food today. Their mothers may no longer be lactating (lactation is generally triggered by pregnancy, but is sustained by continued nursing), making a reversion to breastfeeding all but impossible in the short term, or may not have produced enough milk in the first place, thus necessitating augmenting breastfeeding with formula. Some newborns have food allergies and nutritional disorders which preclude breastfeeding. Some mothers have medical issues which preclude breastfeeding. There are a variety of reasons why mothers feed their infants formula; those reasons do not simply disappear simply because the formula has disappeared from store shelves.
Promoting breastfeeding is a laudable objective—one even the WHO and the American Academy of Pediatrics firmly support—but reversion from formula to breastfeeding is a long-term fix, not an immediate remedy.
Immediate Crises Demand Immediate Solutions
When three-quarters of store shelves are missing their usual supply of infant formula, that is an immediate crisis. No food for baby means baby is hungry today—not later this month or sometime in July, but right now.
As anyone who has ever been responsible for the care and feeding of children at any age knows from direct experience, children tend to be hungry a lot; it’s a side effect of growing. Babies in particular cannot wait for government bureaucrats to figure out how to feed them—they need food now. The long-term effects of infant and childhood food insecurity are profound and potentially lifelong.
The nature of immediate crises is that they requre immediate solutions. A 73% out-of-stock rate nationwide for infant formula is as immediate as a crisis can get.
Thus far, neither the FDA nor any other part of the Biden regime has managed to craft anything remotely resembling an immediate solution.
On the contrary, the FDA is quite literally damaging lives with their incompetence and complete lack of practical understanding. For all their self-congratulatory rhetoric about working “around the clock” to resolve the infant formula shortage they created, they have only succeeded in making the problem even worse.
Children need—and deserve—better than this.