May 11, 2022 -- The FDA said Tuesday that it is taking several steps to improve the supply of baby formula in the U.S.
The nationwide formula shortage has grown worse in recent weeks due to supply chain issues and a recall of certain Abbott Nutrition products, including major labels such as Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare.
“We recognize that many consumers have been unable to access infant formula and critical medical foods they are accustomed to using and are frustrated by their inability to do so,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD, said in a statement.
“We are doing everything in our power to ensure there is adequate product available where and when they need it,” he said.
About three-quarters of babies are fed formula for the first 6 months of their lives as a substitute for human milk, Axios reported.
In mid-February, the FDA warned consumers not to use certain powdered infant formula products from Abbott’s facility in Sturgis, MI. Since then, the FDA has been working with Abbott and other manufacturers to increase the supply in the U.S. market.
“In fact, other infant formula manufacturers are meeting or exceeding capacity levels to meet current demand,” the FDA said in the statement. “Notably, more infant formula was purchased in the month of April than in the month prior to the recall.”
The FDA released a list of steps the agency is taking to increase supply, such as meeting with major infant formula makers to increase output and prioritize product lines in high demand, particularly specialty formulas for infants with allergies or specific diet needs.
But other manufacturers have struggled to quickly increase production because their operations tend to focus on a steady level of supply, according to The New York Times.
“Some industries are very good at ramping up and ramping down,” Rudi Leuschner, PhD, an associate professor of supply chain management at Rutgers Business School, told the newspaper.
“You flip a switch and they can produce 10 times as much,” he said. “Baby formula is not that type of a product.”
The FDA is also keeping an eye on the infant formula shortage by using the agency’s 21 Forward food supply chain continuity system. The system was developed during the pandemic to provide a full understanding of how COVID-19 is impacting food supply chains, the FDA said.
The FDA is also compiling data on trends for in-stock rates at national and regional levels to understand where infant formula is available and where it should go.
Products are also being brought in from other countries, the FDA said. The agency is trying to speed up the process to get more formula into the U.S. and move it more quickly around the country.
For babies on a special diet, the FDA has also decided to release some Abbott products to those who need an urgent supply of metabolic formulas on a case-by-case basis that have been on hold at the Sturgis facility.
“In these circumstances, the benefit of allowing caregivers, in consultation with their healthcare providers, to access these products may outweigh the potential risk of bacterial infection,” the FDA said in the statement.
The FDA continues to advise against making homemade infant formulas and recommends talking to the child’s health care provider for recommendations on changing feeding practices or switching to other formulas, if necessary.