Formula shortage crisis: U.S. capitalism fails even to feed babies


The United States is facing an increasingly dire nationwide  shortage of baby formula. In early 2021, the national baby formula out-of-stock rate fluctuated between 2 percent and 8 percent. The out-of-stock rate began to rise in July, eventually reaching 31 percent. And then, in the last three weeks of April, the rate suddenly shot up again to 40 percent nationwide. In many places the situation is especially dire, with 26 states reporting rates above the average, hitting up to 57 percent in some areas.

Even in the United States, the richest country on Earth that is home to 735 billionaires whose combined fortune totals $4.7 trillion, capitalism is unable to ensure access to something as fundamental as food for babies.

Inflation and pandemic-related supply chain issues have exacerbated a pre-existing problem of inaccessible baby products. Baby formula has long been notoriously expensive in the United States, leading it to become one of the most commonly stolen items at drugstores. This past year, prices of major formula brands lept another 18 percent, lining the pockets of the companies that produce them but hitting poor families the hardest.

Additionally there have been crises in formula manufacturing that have worsened the shortage, such as the shutdown of Abbott Nutrition last February due to safety issues at company plants. Major formula brands like Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare were recalled after several infants contracted rare bacterial infections from the products.

This distressing shortage has pushed parents of infants to great lengths. Some have driven out of state to locate formula or attempted bartering in online groups, where scams and price-gouging abound. Parents who are lucky enough to find formula have felt compelled to purchase as large a quantity as they can afford, leading some stores to place transaction limits on the product. Desperate parents have even felt forced to dilute their stocks with water in order to stretch their supply as long as possible, something that could cause babies to suffer seizures or brain damage as a result of nutrient deficiency.

The baby formula shortage is now a national crisis. Three out of every four parents or caregivers of infants in the United States rely on formula in some capacity. Special types of formula intended for babies with life-threatening allergies or special conditions are even more difficult to find than normal versions. 

It is especially ironic that the formula shortage is taking place in the context of the nationwide fight for abortion rights. If the so-called “pro-life,” anti-abortion forces’ real goal is to preserve the life and health of babies, why are they not showing any outrage or concern whatsoever for the plight of parents of babies who are actually alive? Clearly, these bigots’ only concern is controlling women’s bodies. 

The FDA claims it is working to address the infant formula shortages, but the end of this issue is not yet in sight. Amid the incredible wealth and luxury of this grossly unequal society, the babies of working-class parents still face malnutrition because of the failures of the system.

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