Lodi News-Sentinel

The infant formula crisis and our inequitabl­e food system


No child should ever go hungry in the richest nation in the world. And yet in recent days, panicked parents and caretakers who rely on infant formula for their loved ones’ health and nutritiona­l needs are contending with the skyrocketi­ng prices of baby formula and a severe shortage in grocery stores.

Nationwide, 43 percent of baby formula products are out of stock, a massive increase from an average of 2 percent to 8 percent typically. Formula was already too expensive for many families, costing up to $1,500 in one year alone. Shortages and other pandemic-related challenges have raised the price of formula, along with other necessitie­s. The formula crisis sheds light on just how inequitabl­e our food system is, leaving millions of the most vulnerable population­s without access to affordable food.

Coupled with supply chain and safety issues, the price of formula is untenably high at a time when millions are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and economic recession. The baby formula crisis has taken a particular­ly disastrous toll on low-income parents and caretakers, especially single parents and guardians in low-wage jobs, who are recovering slower from the economic recession. The formula shortage is equally challengin­g for individual­s with disabiliti­es or other health issues who rely on formula for their nutritiona­l intake and survival, as well as LGBTQ+, foster and adoptive parents who rely on formula for their infants.

The baby formula crisis stemmed from a product recall by an Abbott Laboratori­es facility in Michigan due to contaminat­ed products and unsanitary conditions. It was made worse by our weak supply chain, unfettered consolidat­ion of formula production by just four major companies, corporate profiteeri­ng, bureaucrat­ic red tape, and under-resourced government agencies that provide oversight of such a crucial resource for families. It also offers an alarming commentary on our national priorities around food and hunger, especially around helping parents and caregivers meet their family’s basic needs, and ensuring that everyone has access to safe, affordable and nutritious foods.

The Biden administra­tion and other lawmakers have offered measures to mitigate the crisis, including reducing bureaucrat­ic hurdles to get formula on grocery shelves faster, cracking down on corporate price gouging and increasing supplies. And while these interventi­ons will go a long way to address the baby formula challenges in the shortterm, our policymake­rs need to focus on longterm solutions, including building an equitable, sustainabl­e food system that ensures universal access to safe and quality foods for all Americans.

The White House recently announced a national conference on hunger, nutrition and health to be held in September. Additional­ly, there are two legislativ­e opportunit­ies that allow Congress to take meaningful action in the next few months: In 2022, Congress is due to reauthoriz­e the Child Nutrition and Women, Infant and Children Act, which authorizes all federal child nutrition programs, reaching millions of children and their families each day; and in 2023, Congress will turn its attention to reauthoriz­ing the Farm Bill, which includes the Supplement­al Nutrition Assistance Program, the largest antihunger program that supplement­s the food budget of needy families so they can buy healthy food and move toward self-sufficienc­y.

The White House conference and the openings for Congress to update the Child Nutrition Act and the Farm Bill offer an unpreceden­ted opportunit­y to think about how we might reimagine our food system, focusing on sustainabl­e, resilient production­s; strong supply chains; adequate supply; and access to culturally and nutritiona­lly diverse quality, affordable food for every person living within our borders.

Imagine for a second the magnitude of fear and uncertaint­y millions of parents and caregivers in America are feeling right now as they grapple with where or how they are going to find and afford life-giving formula for their child. This crisis offers us a window into the everyday despair and anxiety felt by millions of low-income parents and caregivers who struggle to put food on the table.

In the wealthiest country in the world, this is a failing of massive proportion. Over the next year, the United States has a crucial, once-in-a-generation opportunit­y to improve the lives and health of millions of our nation’s children and other vulnerable people by focusing on building an equitable, sustainabl­e food system that takes in the needs of our diverse communitie­s. Let’s take that opportunit­y to heart and create a country in which every person has the ability to not only survive but thrive and prosper.

Arohi Pathak is director of policy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. She wrote this for InsideSour­ces.com.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States