Feds seek ways to boost baby formula supplies

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WASHINGTON, D.C.

(AP) — A baby formula shortage in the United States is driving parents to swap, sell and offer leftover supplies to each other, while President Joe Biden plans to speak with manufacturers and retailers Thursday about the plight facing families.

The problem is the result of supply chain disruptions and a safety recall, and has had a cascade of effects: Retailers are limiting what customers can buy, and doctors and health workers are urging parents to contact food banks or physicians’ offices, in addition to warning against watering down formula to stretch supplies or using online DIY recipes.

The shortage is weighing particularly on lower-income families after the recall by formula maker Abbott stemming from contamination concerns. That recall wiped out many brands covered by WIC, a federal program like food stamps that serves mothers, infants and children, though the program now permits brand substitutes.

In Washington, White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz said on Twitter that the administration will also announce “additional actions” to address the formula shortage.

Shortages of basic goods have been a problem since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020. Access to medical supplies, computer chips, household appliances, autos and other goods has been hurt by closed factories and outbreaks of the virus, as well as storms and other climate-related events.

A safety recall compounded the challenges regarding baby formula.

The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers on Feb. 17 to avoid some powdered baby formula products from a Sturgis, Michigan, facility run by Abbott Nutrition, which then initiated a voluntary recall. According to findings released in March by federal safety inspectors, Abbott failed to maintain sanitary conditions and procedures at the plant.

On Tuesday, the FDA said it was working with U.S. manufacturers to increase their output and streamlining paperwork to allow more imports. The agency noted that supply chain issues associated with the pandemic were part of the problem and that consumers bought more baby formula in April than in the month before the recall.

New York State officials urge residents to be aware of unscrupulous practices from individuals who are using the baby formula shortages to scam desperate parents. These scams are typically rooted in online sales, and private sellers who are marketing cans for double the price knowing that big retailers have empty shelves and little information about when they may receive the next shipment.

Among tips from the state:

Safety check the product: Make sure the formula you are buying is not subject to a recall. Confirm the formula is new and still sealed in a tamper proof container. Check the expiration date and be certain the product won’t expire before you are able to use it all. 

Beware of social media: In the era of social media marketing, sham businesses and scam artists can easily contact unwitting consumers. Try to arrange for an in-person meeting in a highly public and secure place, so you can be sure you receive the products you’re buying. 

Use caution when shopping online: Shop on trusted sites with retailers known to you. Do your research if you want to try a new site or retailer.

Read the product specifications: Online marketing is geared to get you to buy so it is important to understand the product you are purchasing and the terms of the sale to ensure you are getting what you want. Is the brand and type of formula being sold what you are looking for? Is the size of the product you are buying the same as what you are expecting? 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that the FDA was “working around the clock to address any possible shortages.”

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