Parents trade and sell baby formula as Biden focuses on shortages

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden stepped up his administration’s response to nationwide baby formula shortages on Thursday that has forced frantic parents to join online groups to trade and sell to each other to keep their babies fed.

The president discussed with executives at Gerber and Reckitt how they could ramp up production and how his administration could help, and spoke with leaders at Walmart and Target about restocking shelves and addressing regional disparities in access to formula, the White House said. .

The administration plans to monitor possible price increases and work with trading partners in Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands on imports, despite the fact that 98% of baby formula is made in the country.

The problem It’s the result of supply chain disruptions and a safety recall, and it’s had a cascade of effects: Retailers are limiting what customers can buy, and doctors and health care workers are urging parents to contact food banks or doctor’s offices, as well as warning against diluting formula to stretch supplies or using DIY recipes online.

The shortage is particularly hitting low-income families after formulamaker Abbott’s recall due to contamination concerns. The recall eliminated many brands covered by WIC, a federal food stamp-like program that serves women, infants and children, though the program now allows brand-name substitutes. The Biden administration is working with states to make it easier for WIC recipients to purchase different sizes of formula that their benefits may not currently cover.

About half of the infant formula nationwide is purchased by participants using WIC benefits, according to the White House.

Clara Hinton, 30, of Hartford, Connecticut, is among that group. She has a 10-month-old daughter, Patience, who has an allergy that requires a special formula.

Hinton, who doesn’t have a car, has been taking the bus to the suburbs, going from town to town, and finally found something of the right formula at a store in West Hartford. But she said the store refused to accept her WIC card, not the first time that has happened.

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Hinton said her baby recently ran out of formula from an open can a friend gave her.

“She has no formula,” he said. “I just gave him normal milk. What should I do? Her pediatrician made it clear that I’m not supposed to do that, but what am I supposed to do?

In Utah, fellow WIC cardholder Elizabeth Amador has been going from store to store every day after finishing her job at a call center in Salt Lake City in a desperate search for a particular formula her daughter needs. 9 months. She recently had only one can, but on Thursday she had four cans. She said that she will not stop her cumbersome daily routine until she knows that the shortage is over.

“It sucks, you know, because of high gas prices,” Amador said. “We have to drive everywhere to find the formula. It’s stressful.

Some parents are also using social media to bridge supply gaps.

Ashley Maddox, a 31-year-old mother of two from San Diego, started a Facebook group Wednesday after being unable to find formula for her 5-month-old son, Cole, at the Marine base police station.

“I connected with a girl in my group and she had seven cans of the formula I need that were in her house that her baby no longer needed,” she said. “So I drove, it was about a 20-minute drive, I picked him up and paid him. It was a miracle.

She said there was already a stigma attached to being a non-breastfeeding mother and the group has become supportive. “Not being able to have that formula, it’s scary,” she said.

Jennifer Kersey, 36, of Cheshire, Connecticut, said she had run out of the last can of formula for her 7-month-old son, Blake Kersey Jr., before someone saw her post in a Facebook group and came with some sample cans. . She said she and other members of the group are helping each other out, finding stores that may have the formula in stock and getting it to mothers in need.

“At first I was starting to panic,” he said. “But, I’m a believer in the Lord, so I said, ‘God, I know you’re going to provide for me,’ and I started approaching people, ‘Hey, do you have this formula?’”

Kimberly Anderson, 34, of Hartford County, Maryland, said her 7 1/2-month-old son takes a prescription formula that has been nearly impossible to find locally. She took to social media and said that people in Utah and Boston found the formula, which she paid to have sent to her.

“They say it takes a town to raise a baby,” he said. “Little did I know that my town is spread all over the US as I ping friends and family for their zip codes so I can check their local Walmarts so they can send me directly.”

Commodity shortages have been a problem since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Access to medical supplies, computer chips, appliances, cars and other goods has been affected by factory closures and virus outbreaks, as well as storms and other weather-related events.

Parents desperately searching for infant formula on retail websites like Amazon and Google are supplied with products aimed at young children, including goat milk powder for toddlers and plant-based milk powder.

A banner ad on Amazon offers “organic, non-GMO infant and toddler formula,” but a closer inspection of the product image shows that it’s only intended for children 12 months and older. Other ads for toddler milk appear on Amazon’s website on the out-of-stock infant formula pages.

Cans of toddler milk often look a lot like infant formula, but the ingredients are different, and toddler milk sometimes has more sugar and calories, said Frances Fleming-Milici, director of marketing initiatives from UConn at the Rudd Center, who has studied milk packaging for young children. Infant milk also does not follow FDA standards for formulas.

“It’s not like you’re buying a pair of shoes. This is a little more serious,” Fleming-Milici said. “It’s serving something you shouldn’t be giving your child.”

Dr. Navneet Hundal, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said she and other pediatricians have been dealing with formula shortages for months. Formula companies have stopped giving samples that she could pass on to parents, she said. She advises new parents to talk to their pediatricians to see if there are other brands of formula they can safely give their newborns.

“This is governing our clinical practices right now,” he said.

a safety retreat challenges aggravated.

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

The FDA launched its investigation after four infants became ill with a rare bacterial infection after consuming formula made at the plant. All four were hospitalized and two died. Chicago-based Abbott said in a statement that “there is no evidence linking our formulas to these childhood illnesses.” The bacteria samples collected from the babies did not match those found at the company’s factory, Abbott noted.

Abbott said that pending FDA approval, “we could restart the site within two weeks.” The company would start by first producing EleCare, Alimentum, and metabolic formulas and then begin production of Similac and other formulas. Once production began, it would take six to eight weeks for baby formula to be available on shelves.

On Tuesday, the FDA said it was working with US manufacturers to ramp up production and streamline paperwork to allow more imports..

“We recognize that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country, something that the president is very focused on and we will do everything we can to cut red tape and take steps to increase supply,” said Jen Psaki, secretary of White House press. she told reporters.

The shortage, meanwhile, became politicized Thursday as Republicans, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, criticized the Biden administration for providing baby formula to babies detained at the US-Mexico border.

Biden, in a Thursday letter to the Federal Trade Commission, pressed the independent agency to “leverage all of the Commission’s tools” to investigate and act in response to reports of fraud or price gouging as a result of outages. of the supply.

“It is unacceptable that families waste time and spend hundreds of dollars more due to the actions of price gougers,” he wrote to FTC Chair Lina Khan.

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Eaton-Robb reported from Columbia, Connecticut. Associated Press writers Mike Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey, Steve LeBlanc in Boston, Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City, and Amanda Seitz in Washington contributed to this report.

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