Babies going hungry due to severe baby formula shortage, caused by FDA, import restrictions

Babies going hungry due to severe baby formula shortage, caused by FDA, import restrictions
Never got to sign the consent form. Pixabay

“A baby formula shortage” currently “leaves desperate parents searching for food. Some parents are driving hours at a time in search of supplies. Others are watering down formula or rationing it, hoping for an end to the shortage,” reports the New York Times. The shortage is partly due to the fact that the Food and Drug Administration delays new infant formulas and obstructs the supply chain. The shortage is made worse by import restrictions that block manufacturers in Canada, Europe, and Mexico from supplying the needed formula.

The Times reports:

Maricella Marquez looked at the last can of baby formula in her kitchen on Tuesday and handed her 3-year-old daughter, who suffers from a rare allergic esophageal disorder, a smaller-than-usual portion of the special nutrition she needs to stay healthy.

Ms. Marquez has been calling suppliers all over Texas, asking about any new shipments. “Right now they are out of it, completely,” she said. “I’m desperate.”

Ms. Marquez lives outside San Antonio, a city that has seen the nation’s highest rate of formula shortages — 56 percent of normal supplies were out of stock as of Tuesday, according to the retail software company Datasembly — amid a nationwide supply crunch that has left parents scrambling to feed their children.

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The shortage has been a challenge for families across the country, but it is especially palpable at grocery stores and food banks in San Antonio, a Latino-majority city in South Texas where many mothers lack health insurance and work at low-wage jobs that give them little opportunity to breastfeed. Across the city, baby food aisles are nearly empty and nonprofit agencies are working overtime to get their hands on new supplies.

The shortage became acute with a recall of a defective brand this year….But the recall has been exacerbated by relentless supply-chain woes and labor shortages….On Tuesday, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture, asserting that federal officials have been too slow to respond.

Since the shutdown of Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis facility, other manufacturers have struggled to quickly increase production…for parents who are having to give their babies less than the food they need, even a temporary shortage has been terrifying……For Darice Browning, the specialty formula shortage in Oceanside, Calif., has been so acute that she has considered going to the emergency room just to feed her youngest daughter, Octavia, who is 10 months old and has rare genetic conditions that currently make it impossible for her to eat solid foods. The food allergies she shares with her 21-month-old sister, Tokyo, cause both babies to vomit blood if they ingest dairy proteins.

Rigid FDA rules block new infant formulas or delay their sale for months. Import restrictions prevent the shortage from being filled with supplies from Canada, Europe, and Mexico. Those restrictions should have been waived during the current emergency. Economist Gabriella Beaumont-Smith explains:

trade restrictions … limit infant formula imports. The United States subjects infant formula to tariffs up to 17.5 percent and tariff‐​rate quotas (TRQs); for TRQs some level imported are subject to a tariff with the excess subject to a tariff and additional duties. A few trading partners receive “special” duty rates where some infant formula imports are duty‐​free or receive lower tariffs and TRQs. Mexico is one of the few U.S. trading partners that has some duty‐​free access for infant formula, and uncoincidentally, is the top trading partner for U.S. formula imports. Though, in comparison to total imports from Mexico (worth almost $400 billion), formula imports are extremely low….the inability to import is detrimental as parents are left with few to no options.

Absurdly, provisions were added to the United States‐​Mexico‐​Canada Agreement (USMCA) to restrict imports of formula from Canada, supposedly because China was investing in a baby food plant in Ontario, and this new production might eventually enter the U.S. market (heaven forbid!). Thus, the provisions in the USMCA’s agriculture annex establish confusing and costly TRQs on Canadian exports of infant formula, and the United States imported no baby formula from Canada in 2021.

Making matters even worse, infant formula is subject to onerous U.S. regulatory (“non‐​tariff”) barriers. For example, the FDA requires specific ingredients, labeling requirements, and mandates retailers wait at least 90 days before marketing a new infant formula. Therefore, if U.S. retailers wanted to source more formula from established trading partners like Mexico or Canada, the needs of parents cannot be quickly met because of these wait times. Businesses also have little incentive to go through the onerous regulatory process to sell to American retailers, given the aforementioned tariffs and the relatively short duration of the current crisis.

The European Union (EU) is especially noteworthy in this regard. Many parents demand formula from the EU not only because of the current scarcity but because European formula meets other preferences, including a perceived higher quality, and more varieties like goat’s‑milk-based formula. Technically, it is illegal to import baby formula from the EU for commercial purposes, but parents can (and do) import it for personal use. Recently, the FDA recalled some European infant formula because it did not comply with FDA labeling requirements. It is agreed by many medical experts that the differences between American and European formula are minor and are not worth the expense imposed by these regulations.

U.S. “marketing orders” for milk throw in another regulatory wrench….these orders … raise the price of milk, distort economic activity in the dairy sector that could stymie U.S. producers’ ability to produce more formula to help make up for lost supply.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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