Biden’s bread line crisis? Anatomy of the American baby formula shortage

A president who promised competence was caught flat footed by agency failure, supply chain woes and inflation, and baby parents are now in a panic.

At the outset of his presidency, Joe Biden promised competence by a bigger, better government. A few days ago, one of his loyal allies exposed a gross incompetence by federal officials on Biden’s watch that defied that promise and inflamed a baby formula shortage now panicking parents nationwide.

Rep. Rose DeLauro, D-Conn., a reliable liberal ally, unveiled documents showing the Biden Food and Drug Administration was alerted by a whistleblower last fall about potential contamination issues at the Abbott Nutrition baby formula factory in Michigan and failed for months to act aggressively.

“The FDA reacted far too slowly to this report,” DeLauro said in releasing a letter to the Health and Human Services inspector general demanding an immediate investigation to an incident that has led to babies being sickened and dying and a belated recall that has emptied shelves of formula nationwide.

The congresswoman, the chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, laid out a four-month-long trail of federal bumbles and stumbles: the report came in Oct. 20, the whistleblower didn’t even get interviewed for two months, the plant didn’t get inspected until Jan. 31 and the recall didn’t get issued until Feb. 17.

“Why did the FDA not spring into action?” she implored during a congressional hearing. “Why did it take four months to pull this formula off store shelves? How many infants were fed contaminated formula during this time, by parents who trusted that the formula they were buying was safe? How many additional illnesses and deaths were there due to FDA’s slow response?”

Now the bureaucratic stumbling has escalated into a national crisis, as video of bare shelves and panicked parents harken in America some of the same fears and images as the bread lines and rationing that befell the Soviet Union in the early 1990s just before its collapse.

The problems began even before the recall as inflation, labor shortages and supply chain slowdowns began putting pressure on the baby food staple last fall.

In November, baby formula was already substantially more expensive and supply shortages had already risen to 11%. By the first week of April, the shortages had soared to 31%, and last week the number stood at a stunning 40%, according to statistics kept by Datasembly.

The escalating shortages have prompted major stores such as Target, CVS and Walgreens to ration supplies with purchase limits.

"This is a shocking number that you don't see for other categories," Datasembly CEO Ben Reich told CBS MoneyWatch on Friday.

The crisis has both political and personal consequences.

Many millennial and Gen Z child-bearing parents were part of the coalition that propelled Biden to his election win. And some parents are now facing life-and-death consequences, especially for children with rare digestive disorders.

"If this doesn’t get fixed soon, I don’t know how my son will survive," Phoebe Carter, whose 5-year-old son suffers from a rare digestive and immune system disease, told Politico on Saturday. "I just can’t stress that enough."

The poor and working class – whom Biden promised hope in his inaugural speech – are also disproportionately affected. A food bank in Seattle was so desperate to get some baby formula it recently held an emergency drive.

Alfredo Ortiz, president of the small business group Job Creators Network, said the baby formula crisis follows a pattern of other economic failures by the Biden administration.

“The only thing the Biden administration seems to be efficient at is burying their heads in the sand,” he said. “These are the same bureaucrats that told us for months that inflation was only transitory and would resolve itself. Then they tried to tell small business owners that their supply chain issues had been resolved even though we could all see cargo ships backed up for miles at several ports nationwide.

”Unfortunately, it comes as no surprise that they have failed to protect even the most innocent Americans from their incompetence,” he added.

The shortages are also raising fears that parents might be tempted to concoct their own formulas or water down current store-bought formulas to stretch supplies, two actions experts say are fraught with danger.

The FDA strongly urges parents not to make their own formulas, saying contamination and inadequate nutrients in home-brewed formulas can lead to everything from "severe nutritional imbalances to food-borne illnesses, both of which can be life-threatening."

"Making things at home off of a Google recipe is potentially very dangerous for your baby," Dr. Stephen Lauer, a pediatrician with the University of Kansas Health System, told WDAF TV station this week.

Meanwhile, parents are desperately pleading for help on social media.

"If the MSM can talk about the toilet paper shortage ever hour, they should be talking about the baby formula shortage at least. ...We ended finding the Amazon brand online but not everyone is so lucky to be able to feed that. Please share. This is every store!" Danielle Miller tweeted with a picture of an empty shelve of formula.