What other newspapers say: Government interference left babies crying for food | News, Sports, Jobs

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A US Air Force C-17 cargo plane flew from Germany to Indianapolis on Sunday, carrying not troops or military equipment, but a load of European-made formula for infants and toddlers . It was a mission of mercy to heal a self-inflicted wound.

America is struggling to feed its babies.

Infant formula shortages, a periodic nuisance during the pandemic, became acute in February, when Abbott Laboratories recalled Similac and other brands made at its Sturgis, Michigan plant after four infants developed serious infections. bacteria.

The crisis has shed light on the distorted market for a crucial food for infants. The shortages are expected to continue for weeks, tormenting caregivers, rattling Chicago-area giant Abbott and costing President Joe Biden more points on his dismal approval rating. We hope that the embarrassment of having let down some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens will bring about the changes needed.

Robert Ford, chief executive of Abbott, recently published an apology in the Washington Post. We were relieved to finally see the CEO pay attention to the reputation of this important local employer, albeit belatedly. Abbott needs to get the message across that its products are safe and that it’s taking steps to address shortages, assuming it can meet these and other commitments that Ford has made in its mea culpa.

Ford is not the main villain of this crisis. The wanted poster should really feature a faceless bureaucrat. The current shortage has less to do with immediate problems at Abbott’s factory than with the over-regulation and central planning that governs the US infant formula market.

For starters, government trustbusters over the years have allowed excessive market concentration, leaving Abbott and a few other companies with a huge share of the domestic market. This problem is compounded by the over-focus on the other side of the ledger: the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children – better known as the WIC Nutrition Program for Low-Income Families – is the largest purchaser of infant formula, and federal rules require each state to assign all of its WIC business to a single manufacturer. The purpose of this market manipulation is to get a low price, but it is obvious that competition is limited when only a few large suppliers compete for a few massive orders.

Trade protectionism has also hurt competition, as competent suppliers from Europe and elsewhere have been locked out of the U.S. market by tariffs of up to 17.5%, in addition to picky rules on ingredients and ingredients. labels that do more to promote political interests and discourage competition. than to protect babies. It’s appalling to think of the cost and effort it took for the Air Force to introduce a perfectly safe formula made by Switzerland-based Nestlé that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed into the country. It’s equally appalling to subject baby formula ingredients to the overused Defense Production Act, a step the Biden administration has taken, evidently to show it does. “Something” even if that something is not likely to amount to much.

Given government interference in this industry, it is baffling how slowly the Food and Drug Administration reacted at the key moment in September 2021, when state-level health authorities said they had traced the infection of an infant to the Abbott factory in Michigan. The agency inspected the facility and found unsanitary conditions. Between September and December, he received additional reports of infections, and subsequent inspections noted further contamination issues at the Sturgis facility. A whistleblower complaint alleging violations languished at the FDA for months until someone awoke and alerted the agency’s food safety officer.

Infant formula is a particularly sensitive activity. Its marketing must be regulated so that those who can breastfeed are not diverted from this healthier option. The government also has a legitimate role to play in protecting younger Americans from deadly bacterial infections and other potential manufacturing disasters.

Until now, however, we assumed that federal regulators and the big, reputable companies making the product would have a good grip on ensuring a safe supply. Anyone who has been in the same room with a hungry baby understands that hardly anything could be more important. America must do whatever it takes to feed its children.

—Chicago Tribune



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