26 May 2022, US: In its continued efforts to get formula to families in need, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is encouraging state agencies and their infant formula manufacturers to consider seeking temporary flexibility in their infant formula contracts to allow WIC participants to purchase alternate sizes, forms, or brands of infant formula during the current shortage.
State agencies have contracts with one of three manufacturers to provide specific formula to WIC infants who are partially or fully formula fed. To maximize access for WIC participants, USDA is recommending state agencies, Rickett Mead Johnson (RMJ), and Gerber work together to consider temporarily allowing alternate brand formulas. To help make this financially feasible, USDA is quickly leveraging the new Access to Baby Formula Act signed by President Biden and will cover the additional costs of alternate brand formulas in states that have contracts with RMJ or Gerber, if the contracted size, form, or brand of formula is unavailable. In states with Abbott contracts, Abbott is currently covering that cost difference.
“Responding to the infant formula shortage has been – and will continue to be – a team effort. We encourage states and their formula manufacturers to work together to maximize access to infant formula for WIC participants, and USDA will provide the funding to make that possible,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “WIC families are depending on us for the vital nourishment their babies and children need to thrive. We cannot let them down.”
WIC participants under 12 months of age consume an estimated 56% of infant formula in the U.S. Approximately half of all state agencies have contracts with Abbott, which voluntarily recalled several formula products in February. Though RMJ and Gerber were not subject to the recall, WIC participants in some states in contracts with the companies are beginning to have difficulty finding their typical formula in stock due to the lengthy closure of a major Abbott facility. USDA previously provided waivers flexibility to allow WIC state agencies to provide alternate sizes, forms, and brands of formula, if permitted under their contract, and is now taking action to ensure it is a financially viable option for all states.
Since the recall was first announced, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has been working tirelessly to ensure WIC participants and stakeholders have the information they need to keep infants safe. The agency immediately provided guidance to WIC state agencies and, within days, offered flexibilities, including waivers to help them respond to the impacts of the recall. In the months since, FNS has been providing ongoing assistance and support to help states put those flexibilities to best use and adapt to the rapidly-changing situation, approving well over 200 waiver requests to date.
The department continues to work closely with HHS and FDA and the administration to support WIC through this challenging time and contribute to a swift end to the shortage. Recent actions include:
- Coordinating cross-government to rapidly transport safe specialty formulas into the country for babies with special medical needs through Operation Fly Formula. The first shipment arrived in the U.S. on May 22 with 132 pallets of a crucial specialty formula; the second is expected to arrive today with 114 pallets of another specialty formula, also in high need.
- Calling on states to take advantage of all available WIC flexibilities that could help those they serve. Since May 13, when USDA wrote to state health commissioners on this issue, 33 new waivers have been requested and approved, with all 50 states now offering at least one flexibility to help WIC families get the formula they need.
- Engaging directly with WIC stakeholders including holding multiple listening sessions to better understand current needs and concerns.
More information about USDA’s response can be found on Food and Nutrition Service’s Infant Formula Safety webpage.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America.