Right now there’s next to no baby formula on shelves. Basically Abbot was shut down for serious safety concerns, it’s going to be another two weeks, hoarders picked off the shelves, and as there are only 3 mfgs of baby formula out there it’s left the situation like it is.
Real issue here is there’s no wiggle room and evidently no backup / buffer that either the private sector or the public has put into place.
Business these days runs on supply chains that are very short, and not keeping product sitting around doing nothing. The less you store the better. Less chance of weather event, spoiling, theft, etc. The baby formula companies run on that concept – make a little bit extra, but not too much. You need to make more, you need to order more supplies because they’re perishable. Supplier needs to obtain more. Sources need to turn more over. Etc. It’s not an instant thing.
It’s like going into a small cake shop and ordering one cake a week and suddenly you walk in and need 600 cakes today. Well, something like that.
Other than shuttering one baby formula factory for serious health and safety concerns, it doesn’t appear that the federal government has any ability to respond to a baby food vector shortage. We refuse to allow baby formula from Canada and Mexico, even though it meets or exceeds standards. Not that they have stockpiles waiting for us, but they do have some they could spare.
Hyper consolidation of production means you could take out the entire US baby formula industry with a couple of hours of effort. These places are not guarded, they’re not mirrored anywhere, they’re clutching onto a production process and formulations that could be done by anyone with a stove and the right ingredients. Your $40 pack of dried specialty infant formula is a proprietary blend of bacterial paste, milk, whey, and water.
I mean there’s more to it than this, but the heavy lifting was already done. It doesn’t take $30m of machinery to make formula, just the right ingredients and amounts which you don’t know, because that’s the only thing that makes any baby formula special. The IP. If you knew what blend the special probiotics were you could buy it on Amazon and make your own.
Anyway, back to the government. We have a strategic oil reserve, we have plenty of food options including cheese caves, but not a lot of thought seems to have gone into the specialty food market for infants, nor proper punishments for hoarders and scammers.
It seems like a decent idea would be a public/private partnership in which for the good of all the government warehouses a 20 day buffer supply at greatly reduced rates for storage. This would give the manufacturers even more room to target in on supply chains time-of-need production, and would give society the knowledge that there’s a few weeks of supply even if something goes completely wrong.
As it stands Congress isn’t even meeting for another week or two about the issue, and there’s very little they can do short term other than ask the FDA to approve imports or formally request that baby food be nationalized for a few weeks using the proprietary formulations that are currently off the market.