Formula Shortage Strikes Frum Communities

By Matis Glenn

It’s one thing if adults and children temporarily miss out on one or two food items – the lack of chicken before pesach as a recent example – it’s something entirely different when babies who depend on formula don’t have it. As the nation bears the brunt of a widespread shortage of baby formula, mothers in the frum community are facing the realities of having difficulties feeding their babies, as both cholov stam and cholov yisroel formulas are hard to come by.

Wednesday in Williamsburg, Chanie*, a mother of a 7-week old infant, was beset with worry over not being able to buy formula for her newborn. She had run out, and the shelves in the stores in her neighborhood were bare. She even pondered giving her baby toddler food that she had at home, as she wondered “what the difference really is”.

She thankfully found a few weeks’ supply after a tip from a neighbor about a lone store in Williamsburg which had limited supplies in stock.

Doctors have been cautioning parents not to make Homemade formulas, often based on online recipes. “Homemade formula is dangerous for babies,” Dr. Katie Lockwood, an attending physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Primary Care told The New York Times. “Regular formula is F.D.A.-regulated and held to very high standards, the same way we treat medications. Making it at home is a lot riskier.”

Suppliers of cholov yisroel Kendamil formula told Hamodia yesterday that shipments had been delayed due to an issue with U.S. Customs, but that there was not an inherent lack of product.

Boro Park grocery stores have some(but not all) cholov yisroel formula in stock at the time of this article, with some stories having limits of one-per-person on purchases.

“The shortage of cholov yisroel formula is the result of people’s purchasing decisions,” Yossi, a manager at Empire Kosher Supermarket told Hamodia. “We didn’t have any less shipments of cholov yisroel formula – the reason why we’re having a shortage now is because of two reasons. One is that people heard the news of formula shortages, and are buying far more than what they need, and second, people who normally used cholov stam formula are buying cholov yisroel because it is more available,” he explained.

Experts attribute the shortage to a few factors; contamination at a major manufacturer of formula, ongoing supply chain hiccups, and a fluctuating supply-in-demand cycle which ended up with more demand than supply.

One of three major manufacturers of formula, Abbott, was forced to stop producing formula after their facilities were found to be unsanitary and infested with bacteria. While the FDA originally linked the contamination with two infant deaths earlier this year, the agency now believes that the deaths were unrelated – to the point of permitting products from the shuttered facility on a “case by case” basis, as the government is scrambling to get through the crisis.  A 2011 analysis by USDA reported that three companies accounted for practically all U.S. formula sales: Abbott, Mead Johnson, and Gerber.

Lyman Stone, the director of research at the consulting firm Demographic Intelligence, explained to The Atlantic why there’s currently far more demand than supply, absent all the other factors. Demand rose sharply with hoarding in 2020, then as people were using their stockpiles, demand fell.  In 2022 there has been an uptick in births and fewer mothers nursing, raising the demand again, while manufacturers were still operating with pandemic levels.

Datasembly, a firm that releases real-time product information, published a report last week showing a 43 percent out-of-stock rate in the U.S. For comparison, that rate was between 2 and 8 percent in the first half of 2021.

The Attorney General is concerned that the shortage may lead to price gouging.

“The national baby formula shortage is terrifying for parents concerned about how to feed their children,” NY Attorney General Leticia James said. “The last thing any family needs is to be price gouged on critical nutrition for their little ones, which is why I am putting profiteers seeking to take advantage of this crisis on notice.”

James urged parents who have extra formula to consider donations to food pantries to help needy families. ” If New Yorkers have excess unopened, unexpired formula, please consider donating it to your local food pantry to help families in need.”

Chessed of Lakewood has opened a gemach for those in need, with four locations in Lakewood, Howell, Manchester and Tom’s River.

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