Baby formula shortage is 'colossal failure' of federal government, Utah governor says

Baby formula is displayed on the shelves of a grocery store in Carmel, Ind., on May 10. The nationwide baby formula shortage is a “colossal failure” by the federal government, which failed to prevent a “foreseeable crisis,” said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

Baby formula is displayed on the shelves of a grocery store in Carmel, Ind., on May 10. The nationwide baby formula shortage is a “colossal failure” by the federal government, which failed to prevent a “foreseeable crisis,” said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox. (Michael Conroy, Associated Press)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The nationwide baby formula shortage is a "colossal failure" by the federal government, which failed to prevent a "foreseeable crisis," according to Utah's governor.

During his monthly news conference on Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox blamed the U.S. government's rigid trade policies — which make most formula imported from Europe illegal to buy in the United States — and a shutdown of a Michigan formula plant for the ongoing crisis.

"This is a colossal failure of government, of different government agencies," he said. "It's a colossal failure of our federal government's trade barriers and tariffs — policies that have been misguided for a long time, and now it's rearing its head in the worst of ways."

"This was a very foreseeable crisis," he continued. "And sadly, again, shutting down a plant — because of what were real concerns for sure — but not having a plan in place to replace the problems that that would cause is not only misguided, it's bordering on criminal. I just can't believe we got to this place."

The formula shortage was made worse in February, when Abbott Nutrition issued a recall for formula made at its Sturgis, Michigan, plant. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration began an investigation into four infant hospitalizations — and two deaths — due to bacterial infections they believed may have been linked to formula.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the investigation had concluded, and Abbott said in a statement "there is no evidence to link our formulas to these infant illnesses."

"One of the big problems with the formula crisis isn't just a lack of formula, but a lack of specific formulas that certain babies need," Cox said. "What we are seeing, unfortunately, is this situation is being exacerbated as we saw with bottled water and toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic. Because people know it's harder to find, when they do find it, they're buying more of it than they need, and that's making it harder for other families."

Cox encouraged people to only buy what they need, and as production comes back online soon, he expects the shortage to "ease up in coming weeks. And we're certainly hopeful that that will happen."

Two children who require specific nutritional formulas were recently hospitalized in Tennessee amid the formula shortage.

Although Abbott has been given the green light to return to production within two weeks, it could take six to eight weeks for their products to return to shelves, according to the Washington Post.

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On Wednesday, President Joe Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to prioritize boosting production of formula, and the FDA will increase imports for formula.

The U.S. House of Representatives also passed a pair of bills on Wednesday to address the formula shortage. One would waive certain requirements that limit brands and quantities of formula recipients of the special supplemental nutrition for women, infants, and children can purchase, according to CBS News.

A second measure to provide $28 million to the FDA to remove fraudulent products off the shelves and boost the workforce related to formula was opposed by all four Utah representatives. Rep. Chris Stewart tweeted that he opposes the bill in part because it "doesn't force the FDA to develop a plan."

Instead, Stewart encouraged leadership to consider Sen. Mike Lee's FORMULA Act — for which he is the House sponsor — which would temporarily waive protectionist trade barriers like tariffs and quotas on formula importation.

What can Utah do to address the shortage?

Cox said his team spoke with the FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture about addressing the problem at a state level, though, "sadly," there's not much Utah can do because it lacks formula production facilities.

"The best that we can do is to reach out to our partners across the state, find out where there is formula and where there isn't formula and try to move formula around to places where it doesn't exist right now," he said. "That's very difficult, but that's something that we're working on."

The governor said the state is working with retailers to move formula to where it is needed, and he asked anyone with extra formula to consider donating it to a food bank or formula exchange.

"I want to thank the mothers out there who are volunteering their time to help connect mothers that don't have formula and those in need," he said.

Cox also shared tips for keeping children safe while the shortage is ongoing:

  • Do not make your own formula.
  • Do not water down formula.
  • Do not use expired formula.

All three can be very dangerous for babies, he said, adding that those who are able to should talk with their pediatrician about switching brands.

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