May 18, 2022 - News

Baby formula shortage hits Iowa harder than much of U.S.

Percentage of baby formula out of stock in <span style="color: white; background-color:#ff7900; padding: 2px 4px; margin-right:3px; white-space: nowrap;">Iowa</span>and <span style="color: white; background-color:#1085df; padding: 2px 4px; margin-right:3px; white-space: nowrap;">U.S.</span>
Data: Datasembly; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

The baby formula shortage is leaving shelves bare and causing panic among families and caregivers, particularly in Iowa.

  • The scarcity is largely because of supply chain challenges linked to the pandemic and product recalls.

Driving the news: Nearly 50% of Iowa's expected formula stock was absent from shelves the week of May 1, according to Datasembly, a retail software company. In comparison, the nation averaged around 43%.

  • Iowa ranks 11th in the U.S. for the highest out-of-stock rates, per Datasembly.

State of play: In the U.S., four companies produce 90% of the country's formula, said Jennifer Blackhurst, a business analytics professor at the University of Iowa.

  • Abbott Nutrition, one of the largest suppliers, shut down its Michigan plant in February because of allegations its formula was potentially making kids sick and was tied to some deaths, Blackhurst said.
  • The shutdown disrupted the baby formula supply chain and slowly depleted the stock.

The latest: The FDA just announced Monday that Abbott can reopen its plant, though it will likely take several weeks to reach full production again, Blackhurst said.

Between the lines: Baby formula has become an unexpected political cudgel.

  • U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Randy Feenstra wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden Tuesday that they're concerned his administration is "prioritizing" giving formula to "illegal immigrants" over local states.
  • The pair joins a number of Republican lawmakers who've made similar misrepresentations.

Yes, but: The federal government is required to provide water and food, which includes baby formula, to migrant children detained at the border following a settlement in a class-action lawsuit from 1997.

The bottom line: "Families, try to stay calm. Don't hoard," Blackhurst said. "It causes artificial shortages."


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