Eyeing the stubborn problem of spotty and unreliable production of infant formula, Congress will soon see a bill that aims to expand production
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, with Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, have introduced legislation that would expand baby formula contracting for states from one to two suppliers in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Essentially, states would be required to contract with more than one formula supplier, a primary and secondary provider, for the WIC program. Under current law, states are required to contract with only one baby formula manufacturer for the WIC program.
“It is important to take steps to ensure Montgomery County families are not faced with another shortage of baby formula caused by a limited number of available manufacturers,” Tracey Waller, Montgomery County WIC senior manager with Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health, said in a statement from Turner’s office. “Our community, like many nationwide, is still recovering from the infant formula shortage that started 15 months ago. Increasing the number of sources for baby formula would be a positive step to helping keep Montgomery County residents healthy, thriving and safe.”
Formula shortages made national headlines in 2021 and 2022 when the nation’s largest infant formula producer, Abbott Nutrition, recalled multiple products and had to pause production after federal inspectors found bacteria at a Michigan plant. Heavy rainfall also interrupted production at an Abbot plant last June, days after production had resumed.
At one point in 2022, the Biden administration invoked the Defense Production Act to use military aircraft to get formula from overseas suppliers.
“Families should never be placed in a situation where they struggle to adequately feed their infant children, but that has been the harsh reality for countless families in Ohio and across the country for more than a year,” Turner said. “I am proud to partner with my friend and colleague, Congresswoman Stefanik, to expand WIC’s existing contracting requirements and foster competitiveness in the baby formula market. By making our supply chain more resilient, we can protect families from baby formula shortages in the future.”
The WIC program provides federal grants to states for food, healthcare referrals and nutrition education to low-income women (pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum) and children under 5 years old, Turner’s office said. It serves some 40% of all infants born in the United States and accounts for half of infant formula consumption.
Three companies, Abbott, Reckitt and Gerber, provide 95% of the total baby formula supply nationwide, Turner’s office said.
The state of Ohio contracts with Mead Johnson, a division of Reckitt, to produce its Enfamil products. Its contract with Mead Johnson began in October 2021 and will be up for renewal in 2024. Ohio WIC contracts renew every 3 to 5 years.
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