USDA issues waivers to tackle formula shortage nationwide
07 Jun 2022 --- To tackle the critical infant formula shortage across the US, additional measures have been taken for families in need. Following up on the Operation Fly formula issued by the Biden-Harris administration, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is issuing special waivers nationwide, focused on the special program for women, infants and children (WIC).
With increased flexibility among WIC members through the states, formula access aims to be increased as well as engagement with the members to better fill their needs.
“We’re maximizing flexibility, encouraging action, and providing ongoing support to overcome this obstacle together,” says Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at USDA.
“USDA is committed to providing our WIC families with nutritious foods. While we continue working with our many partners to bring the infant formula shortages to a speedy conclusion, we’re also going to keep looking for ways to help families here and now.”
Focusing on families in need, particularly WIC families, the program seeks to expand access to formulas. An example of such is the flexibility of returning any recalled formulas, which resulted in over 250 approved waiver requests by the USDA.
Actions to increase access
Since May 13 this year, 50 states have received approval for new waivers resulting in at least one flexibility per state supporting WIC families to get the formula they need.
The USDA states there has been an increased engagement level with WIC stakeholders, in order to raise the understanding of current needs and concerns.
One of the waivers serves as flexibilities allowing purchasing of alternative forms, sizes and brands. This was primarily accomplished in practice by Gerber, Owned by Nestle, North Carolina, as contract modifications were done to increase formula access across the state.
Families of low income are prioritized due to the crisis’s harmful effects on an economic scale. Arbitrage opportunities were taken advantage of already at the start of the shortage, making infant formulas inaccessible, especially for families with lower income levels.
North Carolina sets example
Already when the formula supply started to tighten, “We looked at all avenues to ensure safe and nutritious options for North Carolina babies and families,” notes Kody Kimsley, secretary at the North Carolina department of health and human services.
“We immediately began working with our federal partners and with our contracted WIC manufacturer, Nestle Gerber, to give families in the WIC program the flexibility to choose different sizes, types and brands of formula during the shortage,” he states.
“We negotiated and implemented these changes as quickly as possible to relieve some of the stress that WIC-participating families felt.”
Several actions have been taken to tackle the nationwide milk formula shortage in the US. Previously, the Biden administration facilitated air shipment of millions of bottles of infant formula to enter the US from abroad.
Working to rapidly increase the speed of entry for formula products entering the US, the USDA recently led the Operation Fly Formula, which granted special authorization to transport Nestlé formula from Ramstein Air Base in Germany to Washington Dulles International Airport via defense aircraft.
Due to the increased number of shipments to the US, the European Union (EU) has been securing its infant formula supply to ensure they will not end up in a similar crisis.
Earlier this week, Abbott Nutrition restarted its production of formulas after its products were prohibited due to an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as four infants were hospitalized, and two cases were fatal.
Edited by Beatrice Wihlander
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