Americans are still struggling to find baby formula nearly a year after the shortage began and eight months after a nationwide recall. Shortages have become fewer, but the supplies still come up short, and that frightens families with infants.
According to a recent survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly one-third of households with infants had trouble obtaining formula last month. Nearly 1 in 5 had less than a week's worth.
The shortage woes were more acute for lower-income families. The survey had responses from nearly 51,000 households from Sept. 14-26. Nearly 40% of families making less than $75,000 per year reported difficulty finding formula in the previous week, twice the rate of those making over $75,000.
Out-of-stock levels worsened last spring and maxed out at 30% in July. Market research firm IRI said typical out-of-stock rates for food and merchandise are at 5%, with shortages above 10% considered a severe problem.
The recall in February by Abbott Laboratories, one of the top U.S. formula makers, added to the supply-chain issues causing the shortage. The shortage has also spurred online scammers and other profiteers.
British formula maker Kendamil, seeking to make its mark in the desperate U.S. market, pushed its efforts by flying more than 1 million formula cans through the White House's Operation Fly Formula.
Now, the company is working with the Food and Drug Administration to finalize its requirements for long-term distribution in the U.S. Kendamil is investing $30 million to double its production capacity by next year. It plans to be capable of supplying the U.S. market with nearly 1 billion bottle feeds a year by 2025.
Top Republicans have taken aim at the FDA and threatened to hold funding in favor of domestic production. The FDA said it would continue to outsource baby formula, allowing the imported formula to be sold in the U.S. for the long term.
Small formula-makers are pushing for Congress to create incentives for manufacturing plants to expand their capacity. Laura Modi, chief executive of formula startup Bobbie, said the company is considering building its own manufacturing facility.
"We're getting out of the shortage, but the crisis still lingers," said Modi.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, plans to introduce legislation in the coming months aimed at the shortage. Her bill would focus on smaller domestic manufacturers.
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