The US baby formula shortage is leaving manufacturers scrambling and parents in desperation.
During the week starting 24 April, 40% of baby formula was out of stock in more than 11,000 stores across the country, CNN and USAToday reported, compared to an out-of-stock percentage of 2 to 8% during the first half of 2021.
In six states – Texas, Tennessee, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Missouri – more than half of available baby formula in stores was sold out during the week of 24 April, according to CNN and USA Today, citing information from the website Datasembly.
Amid fears of formula stockpiling, several major retailers, including Walgreens and CVS, have placed limits on how much formula parents can buy at a time.
Experts say that strained baby formula supplies were further exacerbated after a recall by the manufacturer Abbott Nutrition. In February, Abbott voluntarily recalled three of its products after reports of illness among infant consumers, including two who died.
The Abbott recall particularly afflicted families who rely on public benefits such as WIC – a special supplemental food program for low-income women and children – because the manufacturer was the exclusive supplier for more than half of the agencies administering WIC, Brian Dittmeier of the National WIC Association told The New York Times.
Now, parents who are desperate to secure a regular supply of baby formula for their children are having increased difficulty obtaining a single can.
Many parents have been relying on social media groups to stay abreast of inventory restocks and possible bargains. The groups have been particularly useful for parents whose children require certain types of formulas due to allergies or other medical issues.
Particularly in areas with low supply, parents have been forced to travel to neighboring states just to see if any formula is available there.
“It’s a nightmare,” Ashley Hernandez, a mother of two, said to the Times. Hernandez has been procuring formula for her two girls from eBay, frantically messaging potential sellers about her requests.
As the scarcity intensifies, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement saying it was aware of supply issues that the Abbott recall had aggravated, especially when coupled with shortages stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The FDA is working with Abbott Nutrition to better assess the impacts of the recall and understand the production capacity at other Abbott facilities that produce some of the impacted brands,” the FDA said in a statement.
Other baby formula suppliers have said they are adjusting their operations to meet the increased demand created by the Abbott recall.
But as supply chain issues worsen and store shelves remain empty of formula, parents of infants are growing more uncertain about how to feed their babies.
“Every day, we hear from parents who are hurt, angry, anxious and scared,” Dittmeier, of the National WIC Association, told the Times. “The lives of their infants are on the line.”