The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Baby Formula Shortage Caused by Profit Drive of Companies

May 23, 2022

Because of the dire shortage of infant formula in the U.S., families are having tremendous difficulties feeding their babies. Shortages started to increase last July, and infant formula stockpiles in the U.S. are now 56% below normal—a true disaster.

Faced with this crisis, parents are often being forced to drive for hours, only to find stores with empty shelves. Parents are going across state lines just to get a can of formula or two, while others are driving to Mexico and Canada. Others have resorted to feeding tubes in their children to just get the babies to hold down oatmeal and fruit.

This crisis was really set off after a recall of infant formula this February led to a shutdown of the only plant that produces Abbott’s baby formula products in Sturgis, Michigan.

This Abbott plant has had long-standing health and safety problems. In 2019, an inspection of the Abbott plant by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered dilapidated and failure-prone formula drying machines, ungloved workers (no access to gloves), falsified safety records, puddles of contaminated water inside the plant, and traces of deadly bacteria thriving in baby formula. But the plant remained open.

The FDA waited until February 2022 to launch an investigation into a whistleblower complaint filed in October of 2021. Only after it was determined that four babies had been hospitalized and two babies had died due to deadly bacteria in Abbott’s formula, did the FDA finally decide to announce a recall and close the plant.

How could the closing of one plant lead to such a dire national shortage? Three companies control almost the entire market for infant formula: Mead Johnson, Nestle, and Abbott. These companies sell 98% of all baby formula in the country, with Abbott having the lion’s share—43% of the entire market. Parents in the U.S. pay twice as much for infant formula as parents throughout most of Europe.

The super-profits of these companies are enforced by the U.S. government itself. The federal government guarantees to these companies over 50% of all sales of baby formula through its WIC program, the supplemental nutrition program for working class families. WIC contracts to buy baby formula from one company in each state. WIC gives Abbott exclusive supplier contracts in over 34 states. The other companies often don’t even bother selling in a state where they don’t have a WIC contract, giving a virtual monopoly to one company in each state.

This very capitalist system has created and ensured this baby formula crisis that millions of working-class families are facing. These companies are not in the business of providing safe and healthy baby formula in sufficient quantities. They are in the business of making money. The actions of both the regulators and politicians only ensure the super-profits of this cartel. All while an increased number of working-class parents and their babies face a life-and-death situation.