This World Food Safety Day, What Can We Learn from the US Formula Crisis?

What is World Food Safety Day?

June 7th is the second World Food Safety Day. It is a WHO initiative that aims to draw attention to the need to prevent food-borne risks, and contribute to food security, human health, economic prosperity, and sustainable development among other food-related concerns.

Unfortunately, on this World Food Safety Day, the United States is under a baby formula crisis. More, unfortunately, while WHO says that breast milk is the safest and healthiest way to exclusively feed children during the first six months of life, breastfeeding is not always an option for everyone.

Challenges to Breastfeed

There are adoptive parents and moms with health conditions or limited breast milk supply. More than that, there are parents who have to rush back to work after childbirth—The US is the only developed country in the world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave; plus, only 40% of women had access to both break time and private space which is not a bathroom for expressing milk, despite federal law requiring both of these, making breastfeeding impossible for many families.

In short, it was never moms who cannot afford formula to choose to breastfeed. It was always moms who cannot afford breastfeeding who choose formula feed. It is reported that the baby formula shortage across the US is disproportionately hurting vulnerable infants and low-income families who do not have the resources to travel long distances or pay marked-up prices for critical nutrients, exactly the families that cannot afford to breastfeed.

So what can we learn from this formula crisis?

First, we need to help families cope. The AAP had issued multiple guidelines and warnings, including what parents should do if they can’t find any formula, how to best switch among different baby formula brands, and what to do with babies needing specialty metabolic infant formula. More information can be found here.  

Second, we need to ensure this doesn’t happen again. House Democrats on May 18 passed a $28 million spending bill that would boost FDA funding to inspect domestic and international formula procedures. The bill now moves to the evenly divided Senate, where its fate is uncertain and we need to hold the Senate accountable.

Last but not least, we need to continue to protect infant and young children’s health through protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding. It is clear that the formula crisis is hitting the families that cannot breastfeed the worst, and it’s our responsibility to improve birth equity and make breastfeeding more doable.

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