Amid the ongoing shortage of infant formula milk in the US, many parents appear to be turning towards homemade – and potentially dangerous – baby formula recipes.
Social media posts (which we’re actively not linking to) containing potentially harmful misinformation about homemade formula recipes have been catching millions of views online and thousands of comments.
Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube have told Bloomberg that they are taking steps to combat this kind of misinformation either by removing the posts or labeling them as potentially dangerous. However, many of these posts and videos are still easy to find and continue to rack up views.
While it’s clear to see why there is a temptation to research DIY recipes amid the chronic shortage, there are some convincing reasons why this should be avoided at all costs.
Off the back of the shortage crisis, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently reissued a warning to parents and caregivers advising them against giving infants homemade formula, arguing it can easily result in severe nutritional imbalances in infants.
“Great care must be given to the decision to make infant formulas at home, and safety should be of prime concern,” said the FDA. “The potential problems associated with errors in selecting and combining the ingredients for the formula are very serious and range from severe nutritional imbalances to unsafe products that can harm infants.”
“Because of these potentially very serious health concerns, FDA does not recommend that consumers make infant formulas at home,” it adds.
The 2022 infant formula shortage in the US is a symptom of the ongoing global supply chain crisis, but it was compounded by a large-scale product recall and US trade policy.
Back in February 2022, the FDA announced an official recall of Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare powdered infant formulas produced at an Abbott Nutrition factory in Michigan following suspected Cronobacter infections linked to the products. Abbott had issued a voluntary recall of some products earlier that month.
Recalls like this aren’t too uncommon – the FDA regularly recalls food and medicines over concerns of potential contamination. However, the infant formula shortage also collided with some other major trends unfolding in the US and beyond.
Firstly: the pandemic. As COVID-19 took hold in March 2020, formula sales surged as people started panic buying and stockpiling infant formula (as well as toilet rolls). After an initial boom in sales, they eventually dropped because parents had already bought all the formulas they required, prompting manufacturers makers to reduce production. Then, in 2022, demand jumped again and makers of infant formula weren’t able to ramp up producing quick enough.
Secondly: the importation of baby formula is strongly controlled and highly taxed in the US. In short, many baby formula products from the European Union didn’t technically meet the FDA’s strict regulations. Meanwhile, under the Trump administration's United States‐Mexico‐Canada Agreement, the exports of formula from Canada were tightened with the new rules requiring Canada to apply an export charge. Altogether, it proved difficult to import baby formula from some of the close trade partners of the US.
Some steps have recently been taken to remedy the issue. Congress and the Biden administration have used emergency actions to alleviate the shortage, while President Joe Biden recently signed into law the Access to Baby Formula Act. However, it’s still unclear how and when the problem will be fully resolved.