Almost a year after the first hint of a supply crisis for infant formula became known, there are still shortages that are affecting tens of thousands of parents across the country.

The story has fallen out of the headlines — partially because the Biden administration has ceased treating the issue as a crisis. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the “out of stock” level for infant formula was still at 18% at the end of September, when 5% is considered a problem.

Wall Street Journal:

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said she plans to introduce legislation next month aimed at addressing the roots of the supply shortage and fostering the growth of smaller domestic manufacturers, but she declined to give specific details.

“For me the underlying piece of all of this is market consolidation,” she said.

That market consolidation is a large part of the problem. When there are only three or four major brands of formula and one of them is forced to shut down due to manufacturing problems, shortages are inevitable.

This is especially true because U.S. law forbids the importation of baby formula from abroad unless it meets the precise, strict guidelines on manufacturing and labeling found in the United States. Eventually, the Biden administration waved those requirements temporarily, but the regulations are anti-competitive and should be relaxed permanently.

Related: Brace Yourself: Food Shortages Will Be a Reality in the West This Winter

Then there’s the issue of FDA incompetence that Republicans say needs to be addressed before they’ll agree to approve funding for the agency.

Some top Republicans have threatened to hold up future funding for the Food and Drug Administration unless the agency provides more explanation for its missteps during the formula shortage, calling a recent internal review inadequate.

“I cannot support rewarding FDA with additional resources after a failure of this magnitude, especially when this report demonstrates that the agency does not take accountability seriously,” Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate health committee, wrote in a letter this month.

Officials say one of the big problems is families overbuying and hoarding formula. You can hardly blame them, considering the FDA’s track record in assuring a plentiful supply of the product.

The trigger for this crisis was the shutdown of the Sturgis, Mich., Abbott plant, which was the largest of its kind in the world. The FDA — which was warned of problems at the plant in October of 2021 — finally shut it down in February.

The result was a near catastrophe as hundreds of infants needing the specialty formula supplied by Abbott were forced to go to the hospital when they couldn’t get it. We came very close to a huge tragedy.

Will we have learned anything to prevent another one?

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