Should the demand be so high? — Analysis

The shortage remains in place despite the authorities’ efforts to fill the deficit

The current shortage in baby formula across the US was caused by the Covid-19 epidemic. Reports in 2021 indicated that many families were having difficulty finding essential baby products such as formula, diapers, and wipes. The shortage was mainly blamed on supply-chain issues – however, some experts pointed out that panic buying was aggravating the situation, too. People were buying essential items during the pandemic. It wasn’t surprising.

Datasembly is a provider of real-time product information. The out-of stock percentages for the first seven month are shown by Datasembly. “were relatively stable”These fluctuations fluctuated between 2% – 8%. The situation began to get worse and in January 2022 the baby formula shortages reached 23%.

Abbott recalls baby formula

There are four US companies with the highest market shares in formula manufacturing: Perrigo Company PLC, Mead Johnson and Nestle Sa. The average country produces 98% the amount of formula that it uses. The disruption of one giant was critical to making this shortage.

In February 2022, Abbott – which is estimated to control over 40% of the formula market – initiated a voluntary recall of several products manufactured in Sturgis, Michigan. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that four infants were hospitalized after eating formula made in the area infected. Two infants were killed.

The FDA states that cronobacter bacteria can be especially harmful for infants. It may cause meningitis, sepsis, or bowel damage. Abbott stated that the Michigan facility had cronobacter found in areas not in direct contact with it.

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“We believe our voluntary RecallThis was the right decision. We will not take risks when it comes to the health of children,” Robert Ford, Abbott CEO, wrote an article for the Washington Post on May 2. “The data collected during the investigation, genetic sequencing, retained product samples and available product from the four complaints did not find any connection between our products and the four reported illnesses in children. But, FDA’s investigation did discover a bacteria in our plant that we will not tolerate.”

In April 2022 the out-of-stock rate for baby formula was at 31% The national out-of stock percentage stood at 43% for the week ended May 8. 

“Inflation, supply-chain shortages, and product recalls have brought an unprecedented amount of volatility for baby formula,”Ben Reich, Datasembly CEO and founder. “We expect to continue to see the baby formula category being dramatically affected by these conditions.”

Impact of unexpected shortage

The US government realized that this crisis was grave only after months. “I don’t think anyone anticipated the impact of the shutdown of one facility,”Joe Biden was speaking to executives from five companies that make baby food at the beginning June. “Once we learned of the extent of it and how broad it was, we kicked everything into gear.” Biden also added that he hadn’t been aware of the extent of the crisis until April.

To ensure that baby-food producers have priority access to resources, President Obama invoked the Defense Production Act in May. Also, the government launched the so-called “Operation Fly Formula,” making the Department of Defense import the formula from abroad by using commercial aircraft. FDA provided guidance. “increased flexibilities regarding importation of certain infant formula products.”

All of these steps were criticised as being slow. Even FDA chief Robert Califf admitted, while testifying before a House subcommittee investigating the shortage, that his organization’s response was “too slow and there were decisions that were suboptimal along the way.”

The US currently faces numerous shortages because of delays in the importation and supply-chain problems. The US is facing a shortage in tampons, as well as the baby-formula crisis. The New York Times has reported that Andre Schulten, the chief financial officer of Tampax manufacturer Procter & Gamble, said on a recent earnings call that it had been “costly and highly volatile”You can purchase the raw materials, such as plastic and cotton.

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If you have a critical need

A very serious factor was involved in the situation of baby-formula shortage. One of the recalled formulas was EleCare – Abbott’s special hypoallergenic product used by infants and children with severe food allergies or gastrointestinal disorders, who require amino acid-based formulas. EleCare was not available to their families in Memphis and two of the children had to be admitted. South Carolina saw four infants admitted after their parents failed to provide EleCare to them.

The authorities granted Abbott permission to allow the release of limited quantities of EleCare on May 31st for those children who were in immediate medical need. Additionally, Sturgis’ facility was reopened in June 4. The company also promised EleCare production would be prioritized.

Less than two weeks later, the disgraced facility had to be shut down again – this time due to flooding. “Abbott has stopped production of its EleCare specialty formula that was underway to assess damage caused by the storm and clean and resanitize the plant,”In a statement, the company claimed. “We have informed FDA and will conduct comprehensive testing in conjunction with the independent third party to ensure the plant is safe to resume production. This will likely delay production and distribution of new product for a few weeks.”

Continuing issues

The FDA launched a second investigation in June into the infant’s death. This was done in January. According to the agency’s statement, cited by the media, the victim had been given Abbott’s infant formula.

Almost simultaneously with the temporary reopening of Abbott’s troubled factory, it was reported that between December 1, 2021, and March 3, 2022, the FDA received nine reports of deaths among babies who had consumed infant formula produced there. The eFoodAlert website was able to obtain this information within a list of 128 consumer complains that were provided by FDA as a response to a Freedom of Information Act request. According to the report, two of the deaths mentioned salmonella, a bacteria that causes salmonellosis – a disease characterized by fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. eFoodAlert reported that salmonella was also responsible for 17 additional illnesses. “The FDA did not respond to eFoodAlert’s request for comment on what was done to follow up on the seven infant death reports that did not involve cronobacter,” Not noted on the website

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Adding to the concerns, the Wall Street Journal reported that in February 2021 – a year before the disruption – a former Abbott employee complained about a host of problems at the Sturgis plant, including “failing equipment in need of repair and formula released without adequate evidence that it was safe for consumption.” According to the WSJ, the complaint was filed under the US Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s whistleblower-protection program. A spokesperson for Abbott told the outlet that they were aware of the concerns but could not confirm them.

There are many reasons to breastfeed.

As one looks at the scale of the problem, it is easy to wonder: What makes American parents so dependent on baby formula? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a baby should be exclusively breastfed for six months. Then continue breastfeeding for at least a year. 

According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (citing 2017 data), although many newborns began breastfeeding (84.1%) only 58.3% were breastfed by six-months. “Low rates of breastfeeding add more than $3 billion a year to medical costs for the mother and child in the United States,” The CDC states. According to the data, 60% of moms don’t breastfeed as often as they want. According to the CDC, it’s not only about health issues. Mothers are also affected by the lack of support they receive from their families, hospitals staff and employers.

Research assistant Professor Melissa Mialon at Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, has done a study on corporate politics in relation to the US baby food industry. She explained to RT that baby food companies have an influence on different levels of society, including politicians and the scientific community.

“For example, Nestle funded a big study in the US called FITS (Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study),”She points out. According to Nestle’s website, FITS is actually “the largest dietary intake study in the United States that examines what and how infants and toddlers eat every day.” 

According to Dr. Mialon who consults for several health and consumer groups, such as the WHO, baby formula in America is purchased and distributed by the authorities. “A lot of people rely on the WIC program (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). It’s a government program helping parents to feed their families. It’s supporting breastfeeding, but it’s also providing a lot of infant formula to parents. So, for parents who are poor, it’s easy to decide to take the formula because it’s paid for by the government. So, when you see a brand that has helped people, a brand endorsed by the government – you start to believe it’s good.”

Formula marketing aggressively

In February, the World Health Organization, together with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), issued a report highlighting how aggressively baby-food companies are promoting their products among families with newborn children. According to the survey, 51% (both parents and mothers) said they have been targeted by formula milk company marketing. For example, 84% of women in the UK were exposed to formula milk marketing. A third of the women surveyed said that a doctor had recommended specific brands of formula. 

“A sustained flow of misleading marketing messages is reinforcing myths about breastfeeding and breast milk, and undermining women’s confidence in their ability to breastfeed successfully. These myths include the necessity of formula in the first days after birth, the inadequacy of breast milk for infant nutrition, that specific infant formula ingredients are proven to improve child development or immunity, the perception that formula keeps infants fuller for longer, and that the quality of breast milk declines with time,”The WHO and UNICEF have issued warnings.

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The research didn’t focus on the US in particular. The authors of the research believe that these conclusions are significant. “the most complete picture to date of mothers’ and health professionals’ experiences of formula milk marketing.” According to the study, companies even played on parents’ fears during the Covid-19 pandemic to boost sales. 

BQ Society and governments must raise the issue of unethical formula milk marketing to a wider audience. It is time for them to act to stop this practice and support mothers and their families. This will undoubtedly upset the interests of the $55 billion industry as well as the shareholders and other stakeholders that benefit from the increased sales.

The WHO issued another report at the end April. The WHO released another report on the matter at April’s end. It focused on digital strategies companies use in order to reach potential clients. Four million posts on social media were analyzed by researchers between January 2021 and June 2021. These reached more than 2.47 billion users and generated over 12 million comments, likes and shares. “Through tools like apps, virtual support groups or ‘baby-clubs’, paid social media influencers, promotions and competitions and advice forums or services, formula milk companies can buy or collect personal information and send personalized promotions to new pregnant women and mothers,” The organisation is closed.

Dr. Olga Rudneva is a Russian Natural Feeding Consultant Association member and says aggressive marketing is a problem that affects all countries. The profit margins of baby-formula growers are increasing despite the fact that they use almost every marketing method. “at an exponential rate.”

“All the measures aimed at tackling the marketing influence are Description in the WHO’s ‘International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes’, which has existed since the ’80s. It’s a common tool that underlines the need to limit advertising and marketing methods, restrict contacts between companies and mothers, deny free samples being given to doctors or mothers, etc.,” She told RT.

“But if we Look at the map showing how the code is implemented globally, we can note that in the US no methods are adopted at all.”

Russia, as Dr. Rudneva pointed out, is also affected by the issue. This year, the country’s parliament tried to completely outlaw infant formula advertising, but in the end decided to require such ads to contain information about the benefits of breastfeeding.

What can we do if the demand is high for baby formula and everyone is affected by it? Dr. Rudneva as well Dr. Mialon agree that creating more human milk banks is an option. Another step that is urgently needed is to improve medics’ knowledge about breastfeeding.

“Everyone wants their babies to be healthy. The issue is not about ‘Did you manage to breastfeed or not?’ We should be protecting the health of our babies. Our doctors should be trained at helping us to breastfeed, the industries shouldn’t be able to market their product and be so close to our doctors,” Dr. Mialon concludes. “There shouldn’t be an agreement between mothers: It’s not the case that someone has failed. It’s because of the system we live in.”



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