Shortage threatens the health of US infants and young children – News

The shortage of infant formula is not over. Families across the US are struggling to access the right food for their babies after a major supplier stopped production.

“One major issue is the consolidation of the food industry,” said David Hammons, senior instructor of supply chain management at Missouri State University. “In the US, just a few producers make up most of our food supply.”

“It’s time to look at how we can improve our regulatory systems and our recall management to make sure this doesn’t keep happening.”

The cost of extensive adjustment

While the formula industry is the most visible case in recent supply chain disruptions, it is not the only one. We have seen shortages of many food products with some favorite brands missing from grocery shelves.

A major reason for these shortages? Extensive and often costly regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“We certainly want our food production to be well regulated,” Hammons said. “But the regulations in place are often created by lawmakers with limited understanding of food production practices.”

“These regulations could make it difficult for smaller companies to survive.”

This leads to a consolidated industry, Hammons explains. When only a few companies can afford to stay offshore, there is less opportunity when a major incident occurs that limits the supply of a particular product.

Another issue at play is the size of the sum. When manufacturers create a product, they assign it a code that corresponds to its production schedule or lot. Lot codes are the numbers you look for on your product when a recall has been announced.

These codes can include all products from the same day or even week of production. The sheer size of these parts can result in mass recalls when many of these products may be safe to sell.

Fighting the shortage

To help families get the formula they need, the Biden administration in May invoked the Defense Production Act. The act will import about 58 million 8-ounce bottle equivalents into the U.S. market by the end of the year.

But this is not a long-term solution. The act has required significant laxity within the FDA and has left many parents worried that they may need to switch their baby from one formula to the new foreign brands.

Until the shortages were conspired, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) required its members to use only pre-approved formula brands.

But the recent flexibility implemented by WIC may have come too late. Families are resistant to switching from one formula to another, fearing that a change could cause digestive problems and other health problems.

“Unnecessary restrictions like this can put undue pressure on the supply chain when something goes wrong,” Hammons said. “As long as formula is safe, then parents should be allowed to use it.”

Hammons suggests another solution: A database to connect manufacturers and distributors with parents and caregivers of infants who need specialty formulas.

Premature babies and babies with allergies often need specialized formula, and there’s no way for families to know when that formula might hit the shelves.

Resources for families

Preventing future disruption

So how can we prevent future food supply crises? Hammons has two suggestions:

  1. Improve our food supply chain management systems.

Companies are beginning to experiment with reducing lot sizes and implementing clearer coding for each product.

“If we can develop smaller, more specific lot codes and the technology to track them, we’ll be able to implement better recall techniques,” Hammons said. “We won’t see such widespread recalls because we won’t be forced to remove products that are safe to sell from our stores.”

  1. Work with our regulatory bodies to find solutions that can facilitate consolidation within the food industry.

This shortage has opened the eyes of many lawmakers and regulatory bodies like the FDA to the shortcomings of our food industry and the regulations meant to protect it.

“Bigger companies have the power to lobby for regulations that won’t stifle their work, but small companies should be offered a seat at the table as well,” Hammons said.

“Small companies cannot survive such a strict regulatory environment, so they will go out of business or be forced to sell their business to large companies.”

These changes could facilitate consolidation and prevent further threats to the health of US families

Explore logistics and supply chain management at MSU

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