TIME: Washington Politicians Helped Create the Baby Formula Shortage. Can They Solve It?
As parents across the country frantically search for baby formula amid a nationwide shortage, many have heard that the source of the problem is in Sturgis, Mich. That’s where Abbott, the multinational healthcare giant that sells formula under the Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare brands and controls 40% of the U.S. infant formula market, shut down its largest baby food plant in February after a type of bacteria linked to the hospitalization and death of several babies was found in the plant. (Abbott maintains there is not conclusive evidence its formulas harmed children.)
But the reason one plant shutting down has had such an outsized impact on the nation’s baby food supply can be traced to Washington, specifically decisions made in the 1980s in Congressional hallways and beleaguered bureaucratic agencies.
But after the current crisis is over, and grocery stores are back to being fully stocked with formula, the underlying consolidation issue will remain, as well as the potential for similar shortages in the future. Addressing that problem would require a major overhaul of WIC, the kind that some experts who follow the issue are skeptical will happen any time soon.
“There’s still not an awareness that one of the government’s key roles is to structure markets, so that you don’t have fragile supply chains,” says Matt Stoller, the director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project, an antitrust advocacy group, and the author of Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.