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The Baby Formula Shortage: Everything You Need to Know About the Crisis Affecting Millions

Parents across the U.S. are scrambling to find essential baby formula for their newborns. Here's everything you need to know about the scarcity, and what to do until it subsides.

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The latest casualty of the ongoing supply chain crisis, baby formula has joined the list of (much needed) essentials that are increasingly missing from shelves. Retailers have begun restricting how much customers can purchase at once, attempting to ration the minimal supply for those in need. While millions continue to be affected, here's everything you need to know.

Why is there a baby formula shortage?

The vastness of the baby formula shortage was exacerbated by a three factor storm: an Abbott Nutrition recall, supply chain constraints and political pressure.

Back in February, the multinational healthcare company Abbott Nutrition closed its plant in Michigan and issued a recall of several products after regulators identified the source of a salmonella and Cronobacter sakazakii contamination in Abbott's Similac PM 60/40 baby formula.

While two infants died after consuming the formula, it remains unclear if the harmful bacteria came from Abbott's facility, as strains found at the plant didn't match the two samples from the affected infants. The company shut down and recalled products nationwide, pulling millions of baby formula units off shelves until the safety of its product could be confirmed.

Still, product recalls aren't an anomaly, and if it weren't for the coinciding supply chain crisis, Abbott's shut down may have not affected the nationwide baby formula shortage at such lengths. When families stocked up on essentials in the wake of the pandemic — including baby formula — sales fell last year as consumers worked through what they had purchased, thus inciting far less demand, therefore cutting back on supply. Now, as demand has spiked, it's far more difficult for companies to meet the sudden and steep demand amidst supply chain delays.

Related: 5 Ways of Effectively Navigating Supply Chain Disruptions

While the shortage began to take form in February, it has garnered more attention over the past week as Republicans put blame on the Biden administration for not acting sooner.

However, former White House secretary Jen Psaki disagrees, stating that "what's important to note, is as much as this hasn't been reported on, because people were not seeing shortages at the stores as much, there was an announced recall back in February and there were steps we have been taking every single day since then, with the FDA in the lead, to help address any potential shortage."

Related: Can't Find Chicken Wings, Diapers, or a New Car? Here's a List of All the Shortages Hitting the Reopening Economy.

What is the baby formula shortage bill?

On Wednesday night, The House passed a set of bills aimed at mitigating the nationwide baby formula shortage. In a 414-9 vote, the first initiative would assist low-income women and children in accessing formula through funds from a federal program. The House then voted 231-192 on a bill that would send $28 million to the FDA to expedite and increase baby formula supply, as well as prevent future shortages.

The House's initiatives came just hours after the Biden administration announced they would invoke the Defense Production Act, which would prioritize production of key ingredients needed for baby formula, and urge manufacturers to provide resources.

What does the ongoing baby formula shortage mean for parents?

While both bills passed by the House are headed to the Senate, the Biden administration continues to work with producers to boost supply and mitigate the scarcity.

As far as Abbott Nutrition, after its three-month plant closure, it reached an agreement with the FDA this week that will allow the reopening of its baby formula plant in Michigan. Among the terms of the agreement, Abbott Nutrition must "retain or continue retention" of an outside expert unaffiliated either personally or financially with the company to help bring it into compliance and avoid future bacterial contamination. Abbott has said it may be up and running in as little as two weeks.

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