May 12, 2022 - Podcasts

The desperate nationwide hunt for baby formula

Parents are scrambling to find baby formula amid a shortage that’s growing into a full-blown crisis. Retailers across the country are reporting about 40% of their baby formula is out of stock, due to supply chain issues and a recent recall of certain products.

  • Plus, primary voters in Arkansas face controversial new laws
  • And, a new report says hundreds of children died at Native American boarding schools

Guests: Axios' Nathan Bomey and Worth Sparkman.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, May 12th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re following: a new report says hundreds of Native American children died at government boarding schools.

Plus: Why the Arkansas primary may be more important than the general election.

But first, the desperate nationwide hunt for baby formula, is today’s One Big Thing

Parents are scrambling to find baby formula amid a nationwide shortage that's growing into a full-blown crisis. Retailers across the country are reporting about 40% of their baby formula is out of stock because of supply chain issues and a recent recall of certain products. Axios business reporter Nathan Bomey has been reporting on the shortage and joins us now with the latest. Hey Nathan.

NATHAN BOMEY: Hi how are you?

NATHAN: I mentioned supply chain problems, but a lot of this was made worse by the recall of Abbott Nutrition products. Can you catch us up on why baby formula is so hard to find right now?

NATHAN: Yeah, there had been some distribution problems and some access issues with raw materials for a while, but then this Abbott Nutrition recall happened and the whole situation just exploded. They basically discovered a foodborne pathogen in the plant of Abbott Nutrition in Sturgis, Michigan. And this was the catalyst for this big recall. Now there's a dispute over whether that pathogen actually made its way into the formula products or not. But the bottom line is that the FDA has essentially shut down the facility and that has led to a real crisis in access to formula throughout the country.

NIALA: What is the FDA doing now to address the shortage? Because even the White House has gotten involved

NATHAN: Yeah, the FDA says that they're taking proactive steps to try to shore up supplies wherever they can. They're meeting with manufacturers, they're accelerating review processes. They're trying to get foreign imports in to replace it. The problem is that you can't really quickly set up a new production facility for baby formula. It's just not the kind of thing that you can do fast. Because it's a very sensitively manufactured product had to be very careful, all kinds of safety procedures. And so it's, it doesn't look like this is going to improve overnight.

NIALA: So about three and four parents of young babies rely on infant formula, but are there some families who are especially hit hard by the shortage?

NATHAN: All parents of young babies are affected in some way here, but it's especially impactful for parents of twins, for example, or adoptive parents or LGBTQ parents. And of course, in some cases, a LGBTQ parent could be an adoptive parent or have had a baby through a surrogate. But the point is that those are parents who are particularly affected by this because they can't always rely on breast milk. And so parents are, are panicking because retailers are actually limiting sales of this product because they learned earlier in the pandemic with other shortages that panic buying can lead to a crisis across the board. So they're trying to limit that. And the concern is that some people will make mistakes and go out and try to find their own alternatives.

NIALA: Right. So let's just remind everybody what parents should not be doing in the meantime.

NATHAN: Yeah. I think the first thing is do not, you know, use cow's milk for example, because that's a real problem for babies under one years old. And what they really should be doing is talking to a healthcare provider first to make sure that they know whether they can replace the formula that they're used to with another one. Because this is a product that, babies can react to, um, poorly, depending on what you switched to.

And I talked to a doctor who said that a lot of times babies will be able to handle it after a few days even though that's the case, you really do want to talk to someone who understands the specific medical needs of your baby.

NIALA: Nathan Bomey is a business reporter with Axios. Thanks Nathan.

NATHAN: Thank you.

NIALA: In a moment - Primary voters in Arkansas face controversial new voter registration laws.

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NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Arkansas began early voting for its May 24th primary this week with seats up for grabs in the US Senate and House and all the way down the ballot. Voters in these primaries will also be subject to four Republican sponsored laws, tightening restrictions around voter IDs and signatures and more. Axios' Northwest Arkansas reporter Worth Sparkman is with me as I am in Bentonville, Arkansas for the rest of the week. Hey Worth.

WORTH SPARKMAN: Hi, Niala. It's good to see you in person.

NIALA: Worth, this is a red state and our primary. Voter turnout probably will be around 20% I saw projections. But why are these primary racists so important now?

WORTH: What I'm being told Niala is that, there are so few contested races in Arkansas that the primary is very, very important. As one State Senator told me recently, waiting to vote in November in Arkansas is like showing up to Monday night football on Tuesday. It's going to be over with. So this is where the race is actually going to be decided in Arkansas on, in all of the US offices, it will be in May. And as you pointed out, the voter turnout will be extremely low. And so you're having a, a very small minority of people electing leaders for the majority of the state.

NIALA: I have been seeing signs for the Governor's race as I was coming in from the airport. What are the highest stakes races here for these primaries?

WORTH: It really is the Governor’s race, it is Secretary of State, and Attorney General. Those really are the, the top races. Running for the Republican seat for Governor, is the front runner is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who people may remember is the former President Trump's press secretary. She's also the daughter of former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee.

NIALA: So this will be the first test of a few new laws which in many ways are representative of what we're seeing in other places all over the country when it comes to voter restriction.

WORTH: Yeah. So, Arkansas enacted a four voter laws. There's one that requires voters to have with provisional ballots to submit copies of their IDs. There's one that prohibits people from getting within a hundred feet of a pole, which has been an issue in some places. With, uh, long lines and people not being able to have access to water or food. They've changed the deadline for our mail-in ballot to the Friday before the election. And previously it was the Monday before.

NIALA: Why did Republicans say these laws were necessary?

WORTH: They felt like it helped protect the integrity of our electoral system in Arkansas.

NIALA: Were there any instances of voter fraud in the previous election?

WORTH: There were none that I'm aware of in Arkansas no. Matter of fact, our current Secretary of State, is running ads, because he's running again for Secretary of State and has declared that it was one of the safest elections in the country.

NIALA: Worth Sparkman is one of the Axios local reporters based in Northwest Arkansas. Thanks Worth.

WORTH: Thanks Niala it's good to see you.

NIALA: One last thing before we go - A new Department of Interior report has found that for more than a century - starting in 1819 and ending in 1969 - Native American children faced deadly abuse at government-run boarding schools. Initial research also shows that more than 500 American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children died while attending the more than 400 schools. They also found children suffered whippings, sexual abuse, manual labor and severe malnourishment.

These schools were founded as part of an effort to eradicate Indigenous languages and culture.

While announcing the findings, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland spoke about the lasting effect that this forced assimilation campaign has had on generations of Native Americans.

SEC. DEB HAALAND : The federal policies that attempted to wipe out native identity, language, and culture continue to manifest in the pain tribal communities face today, including cycles of violence and abuse, disappearance of indigenous people, premature deaths, poverty, and loss of wealth, mental health disorders, and substance. Recognizing the impact of the federal Indian boarding school system cannot just be a historical reckoning. We must also chart a path forward to deal with these legacy issues

NIALA: While the investigation continues, Sec. Haaland also announced the launch of a yearlong tour across the U.S. to hear stories from survivors of the boarding school system and connect them with resources.

That’s all we’ve got for you today.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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