Families who rely on baby formula to feed their children have been struggling through a shortage for several months already. However, these desperate parents may finally have a reason to hope that help is on the way. Manufacturers, in collaboration with governmental bodies, are working to increase the availability of formula in the U.S. as quickly as possible.
Nestlé announced it would be flying in shipments of baby formula from overseas to boost supply in the U.S. In a statement sent to Reuters, Nestlé said it was moving Gerber baby formula from the Netherlands and Alfamino baby formula products from Switzerland to start filling U.S. store shelves as soon as possible.
“We prioritized these products because they serve a critical medical purpose as they are for babies with cow’s milk protein allergies,” the company wrote in its statement. “Both products were already being imported but we moved shipments up and rushed via air to help fill immediate needs.”
Meanwhile, executives from Reckitt Benckiser, the parent company of Enfamil baby formula, announced earlier this week it will increase production by nearly 30% and expedite shipping to stores across the U.S. Robert Cleveland, Reckitt’s senior vice president of North America and Europe Nutrition, told Reuters the company is allowing workers “unlimited overtime” to cover shifts to produce more baby formula.
Abbott Nutrition, which makes Similac, has also indicated that it is air-shipping product from its Ireland facility on a daily basis and is working to help parents receive Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) at no cost. This week Abbott also reached an agreement with the FDA to reopen a plant that had closed following the recall of its formula in February, but the company says the formula the plant produces won’t reach store shelves for six to eight weeks after it starts production.
The U.S. federal government also announced a series of steps to help ease the baby formula shortage compounded by product recalls, supply chain issues and staffing issues.
For example, the House Appropriations Committee on Agriculture and Energy and Commerce Committee are planning hearings in the next week or so with the country’s top formula makers. The goal is to find out what steps they are taking to prevent price gouging, increase supply, and get a timeline for when formula supply can meet demand.
Additionally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress will introduce legislation to grant emergency authorization to the WIC program. This move is intended to relax regulations not connected with product safety so that production can be speeded up.
“Ensuring that every precious baby has the nutrition that he or she needs is a matter of the baby’s life and development,” Pelosi said, according to CBS News. “While it is essential that we ensure that this issue never happens again, right now the babies are crying and the babies are hungry — so we must take urgent action to protect their health and well-being.”
In a related move, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut introduced an appropriations bill to Congress to boost funding, up to $28 million, “to prevent future shortages, including such steps as may be necessary to prevent fraudulent products from entering the United States market.” The bill also asks the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to provide weekly updates on the status of how the funding is being used to safely help end the baby formula shortage.
“Let me be clear — the food we give our babies should be the safest product on the market. This week, I will introduce legislation to restore the domestic supply of infant formula,” the lawmaker shared in a statement on her official website. “Moreover, I will prepare legislation to strengthen food safety to help prevent this from happening again. Families are depending on us to help them get formula that is safe for their babies.”
House Democrats are also considering introducing other bills in the wake of this shortage, such as one strengthening the FDA’s ability to hold companies accountable and enforce recalls.