The editors of the Washington Post have a plan for fixing the infant formula shortage:
The simple solution, from the outset, would have been to import more formula from abroad, from places such as the European Union, Britain, Canada, Australia and Japan. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that it was streamlining its review process so that foreign manufacturers could begin shipping more formula into the United States. That should have happened weeks ago. The FDA also reached a deal with Abbott on how to reopen the shuttered factory in Michigan.
The situation is still dire. Supplies of formula have been 40 percent out of stock, and it could take two months before it is widely available again. On Wednesday, the White House took the much-needed steps of announcing “Operation Fly Formula” to speed up foreign formula imports by using Defense Department air cargo contacts and invoking the Defense Production Act to speed delivery of ingredients to domestic formula producers.
As with most crises, the families that are the hardest hit are low-income households that can’t afford to pay high prices or drive around to multiple stores and families that have children with special medical conditions. At a minimum, states should work with manufacturers to suspend requirements forcing moms on the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to buy only specified formulas with government vouchers.
Disappointingly — albeit predictably — demagogues have been feasting on the fears of babies going hungry. Republican lawmakers and their backup choir on right-wing media have been stoking outrage with false claims blaming the shortage on stocks being set aside for the babies of undocumented immigrants. And there are some who are trying to shame mothers who don’t breastfeed.
The nation needs a full and rational accounting of this mess and the troubling questions about why it took so long for the FDA to look into the Abbott plant after a whistleblower came forward in October. Longer-term, we should open the U.S. market up to more imports from abroad. The trade deal the Trump administration struck with Canada and Mexico that made it even harder to import formula from Canada has had unintended consequences. In the 21st century, the United States should be capable of feeding the smallest and most helpless among us.
I don’t think they’ve actually thought it through very well. As has been pointed out around here, importing infant formula from small countries that produce formula almost exclusively for domestic consumption, e.g. Canada, is at best a very short term solution and at worst is just moving the problem from a U. S. one to a Canadian one. The United States is a very big country. I’m not convinced that Canada or Ireland is in any position to compensate for a 40% shortfall here in the U. S. which is what is being reported.
They also might want to consider why the FDA has the regulations it does on infant formula. If they don’t preserve the lives or health of American babies, they shouldn’t exist. If they do preserve the lives or health of American babies, they should not be lifted even temporarily. I don’t see any middle ground.
In addition you might want to consider this analysis at BIG by Matt Stoller. Mr. Stoller sees the problems as unforeseen consequences of FDA regulations conjoined with Department of Agriculture policies. Consider the bar chart at the top of this page. It represents the market share of the companies that dominate the infant formula market in the U. S. In case you’re wondering about Nestle, while it doesn’t have much market share here, it does have an enormous slice of global marketshare.
That’s not the working of the market you see in operation there. It’s a consequence of the way the Food Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) works. Winners of bids in each state are guaranteed a statewide monopoly on infant formula sales under the program in that state. WIC accounts for about half of all infant formula sold. Contract winners have an enormous competitive advantage.