KEY POINTS

  • Abbott Nutrition recalled several lots of infant formula from its Sturgis, Michigan plant, in February
  • The White House seeks to expand access, increase imports and crack down on price-gougers
  • Two of four infants who suffered bacterial infections after consuming the Abbott products died

The White House on Thursday announced plans to ease the baby formula shortage in the country that has raised concerns for non-breastfeeding babies and children with medical conditions who need specialty formula. The shortage was fueled in February when Abbott Nutrition recalled a group of milk products following a string of Cronobacter sakazakii infections in babies who consumed the recalled products.

The Biden administration, as part of the measures to ease the shortage, seeks to crack down on price gouging of formula sales, increasing imports, and expanding formula access for citizens under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, The Hill reported. A senior administration official said the government will continue to find ways to help improve the production and distribution of baby formula. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said late Thursday that "hoarding" was the bigger problem.

There have been increasing concerns over the past months as the availability of infant formula went scarce. In particular, parents with children who need specialty formula and those who have little to no opportunity to breastfeed their babies have expressed frustration over the shortage, The New York Times reported.

Some have resorted to rationing, even for children with special needs. Owner of Mount Carmel Pharmacy in the Bronx area, Roger Paganelli, told The New York Post that “hundreds” of children have no choice but to feed on formula due to their medical conditions. “We’re trying to balance and ration as best as we can. It’s a very sensitive situation. These are hard decisions to make,” he said.

Abbott Nutrition, one of the largest suppliers in the country, voluntarily recalled certain lots of Similac, EleCare, and Alimentum powder formula in mid-February following four reports of infants who contracted an infection from the Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria. The said products were manufactured in Sturgis, Michigan. The recall was expanded in March to include a lot of Similac PM 60/40. Two of the four infants who suffered from bacterial infection died, CNBC reported.

Abbott said the bacteria that caused all four infected infants to be hospitalized was found at a plant and not in production areas where the products in question were being made. The company has since shut down the Sturgis plant and said all finished products tested were negative for Cronobacter sakazakii.

The shortage is already a problem in itself, but potential scams related to the matter may become another issue. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warned of possible scams arising from the shortage that will target parents searching for baby formula. The BBB said one of the potential scams is artificial positive reviews on a website selling formula so people will trust it, after which the scammers will cut off contact after a buyer makes a purchase.

The White House is expected to further detail its plans for easing the baby formula shortage in the coming days.

The United States is in the grip of a severe shortage of baby formula -- with a mass product recall aggravating pandemic supply chain woes -- sending families on sometimes desperate hunts for the vital supplies The United States is in the grip of a severe shortage of baby formula -- with a mass product recall aggravating pandemic supply chain woes -- sending families on sometimes desperate hunts for the vital supplies Photo: AFP / Stefani Reynolds