By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
As Kentucky families struggle to find baby formula for their infants and no immediate end in sight, Kentucky lawmakers discussed ways to improve the situation at the June 2 meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services.
The shortage is largely the result of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigation of Abbott Nutrition‘s Michigan factory that resulted in it shutting down in February. The investigation was prompted by four bacterial infections in infants who had consumed formula from the company’s Michigan plant. Abbot makes up to 40% of the formula market in the United States.
Abbott announced Saturday that it had resumed production at the factory after meeting initial requirements agreed to with the FDA as part of a consent decree the company entered into on May 16.
But that doesn’t mean an immediate end to the shortage. Abbott says its priority is production of EleCare, a special formula for children with multiple allergies, before it ramps up production of its other products. The initial EleCare product is expected to be released “on or about June 20,” Abbott’s release said.
Last week, FDA Administrator Robert Califf told lawmakers that the baby formula shortage in the U.S. will likely not be resolved until late July.
On June 2, Datasembly, a retail data firm, reported that the nationwide out-of-stock rate for formula in the week ending May 28 was 74%, up from 70% the week before and 45% the week before, according to Bloomberg. Kentucky’s latest out-of-stock rate is 76.7%, a slight increase from 75% the week before.
President Joe Biden has done several things to increase access to formula, including invoking the Defense Production Act to mandate increased production and importing formula manufactured overseas.
Legislators and Beshear
The day before the health committee meeting, Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, a co-chair, published an opinion article that urged Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to issue a plan for how to deal with the shortage, saying “We have heard nothing from Gov. Beshear on what families are to do.”
Moser took several jabs at Beshear’s handling of the shortage and said he should issue executive orders to increase the production of formula and address price gouging, as governors in other states have done.
“I am calling on him to make a statement and do what he can to address this shortage because Kentucky families struggle every day to find the necessary supplies for their children,” Moser wrote.
At the committee meeting, Eric Friedlander, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said there are already anti-price gouging statutes on the books that should continue to be enforced.
Moser said the state attorney general’s office told her that any anti-price gouging policies specific to formula need to be tailored specifically to this food product. “I think it’s worth looking into, just to provide some protections,” she said.
She also noted that Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles (whom she is supporting for governor) is calling for donations of formula through his Kentucky Hunger Initiative.
Kentucky has taken advantage of federal waivers that allow the WIC program to cover more types and sizes of formula since February. Click here to see the list of approved formulas available to WIC participants.
“We’re doing pretty much everything we can to try to help families find the formula they need,” Cathy Winston, nutrition manager at the Northern Kentucky Health Department, told the committee. “And it’s been a real challenge.”
Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, encouraged new and expectant mothers to consider breastfeeding and consult their doctors about it.