Arohi Pathak: Reinvent America’s Food System for a Long-Term Solution to the Baby Food Shortage | Column

Arohi Pathak

No child should go hungry in the richest country in the world. Yet in recent days, panicked parents and caregivers who rely on infant formula for the health and nutritional needs of loved ones are faced with skyrocketing infant formula prices and severe shortages in grocery stores.

Nationally, 43% of infant formula is out of stock, a massive increase from an average of 2% to 8% overall. The formula was already too expensive for many families, costing up to $1,500 a year. Shortages and other pandemic-related challenges have driven up the price of formula, along with other necessities. The formula crisis highlights how inequitable our food system is, leaving millions of the most vulnerable populations without access to affordable food.

Coupled with supply chain and security issues, the price of formula is unsustainably high at a time when millions are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and economic turmoil. The infant formula crisis has had a particularly dire impact on low-income parents and caregivers, especially single parents and caregivers in low-wage jobs, who are recovering more slowly from the economic downturn. Formula shortages are equally difficult for people with disabilities or other health conditions who rely on formula for nutrition and survival, and for LGBTQ, adoptive, and adoptive parents who rely on formula. for their infants.

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The infant formula crisis stemmed from a product recall by an Abbott Laboratories plant in Michigan due to contaminated products and unsanitary conditions, and was compounded by our weak supply chain, uncontrolled consolidation Infant formula production is hampered by just four large companies, corporate profit, red-tape bureaucracy and under-resourced government agencies that provide oversight of such a crucial resource for families. It also offers an alarming commentary on our national food and hunger priorities, in particular to help parents and caregivers meet the basic needs of their families and ensure that everyone has access to safe, affordable and nutritious.

The Biden administration and other lawmakers have proposed measures to ease the crisis, including reducing bureaucratic hurdles to get formula on grocery shelves faster, cracking down on excessive corporate pricing and increasing the offer. And while these interventions will go a long way to addressing short-term formula challenges, our policymakers need to focus on long-term solutions, including building an equitable and sustainable food system that ensures access. universal to safe, quality food for all Americans.

The White House recently announced a national conference on hunger, nutrition and health in September. In addition, two legislative proposals would allow Congress to take significant action in the coming months. This year, Congress must reauthorize the Child Nutrition and Women, Infants, and Children Act, which enables all federal child nutrition programs to reach millions of children and their families every day. . Next year, Congress will turn its attention to reauthorizing the Farm Bill, which includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the largest hunger relief program that helps the food budget of families in need so that they can buy healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency.

The White House conference and congressional overtures to update the Child Nutrition Act and the Farm Bill provide an unprecedented opportunity to think about how we might reimagine our food system, focusing on sustainable production and resilient, strong supply chains, adequate supply and access to culturally and nutritionally diverse, good quality and affordable food.

Imagine for a second the scale of fear and uncertainty that millions of parents and caregivers across the United States are feeling right now as they wonder where and how they will find and deliver lifesaving formula to their child. . This crisis offers us a window into the daily desperation and anxiety felt by millions of low-income parents and caregivers struggling to put food on the table.

In the richest country in the world, this is a failure of massive proportions. Over the next year, the United States will have a crucial role to playonce per generation opportunity to improve the lives and health of millions of children and other vulnerable people in our country. We must focus on building an equitable and sustainable food system that takes into account the needs of our diverse communities. Let’s create a country where every person has the ability not only to survive, but also to thrive and prosper.

Pathak is Policy Director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress: She wrote this for

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