Posted in Brownstone
May 18, 2022

The FDA/WIC Role in the Baby Formula Debacle

There has by now been an acute shortage of infant formula in the United States for months. Despite government claims to the contrary, it is unlikely to end anytime soon. 

This turn of events was utterly predictable. Indeed, it was all but inevitable, as the government agencies responsible for providing safe, readily available infant formula have been neglecting their mission for decades.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a regulatory agency that exists for the purpose of insuring the safety and availability of certain products. One of the products for which the FDA is responsible is infant formula.

If infant formula causes harm, both the maker of the formula and the FDA are responsible. However, if infant formula is unavailable, only the FDA is responsible. No private entity has a duty to produce or sell formula.

Along with the FDA, the other relevant agency is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Their self-described mission is “to increase food security and reduce hunger.”

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is one of the programs that the FNS administers. WIC was established almost exactly 50 years ago. Its remit is to help children under the age of 5, along with pregnant and nursing mothers, to meet their nutritional needs. Currently, over half of American infants participate in the program.

By the 1990s, pregnant women and mothers who came to WIC for help, advice, and support feeding themselves and their children were often confronted with intrusive, irrelevant questions about their personal lives and medical histories, and relentless pressure to vaccinate themselves and their children. Sometimes, access to food was directly tied to immunization status.

In December of 2000, an Executive Memorandum was issued indicating that immunization status should never be used as a condition of eligibility for WIC services, but that efforts should be focused to “increase immunization levels among children participating in WIC programs.”

Ever since, WIC has shamelessly been using its position of power and trust to convince women who come seeking food that what they really need is vaccines. Why, if you go to WIC’s website, is there a “spotlight” on “COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 – 11”? No children ages 5 – 11 are served by WIC.

WIC does not seem to have devoted as much attention over the years to providing nutritional support as it did to providing vaccination support, but it did leverage its purchasing power and institutional influence to essentially grant 3 companies an oligopoly on the production of infant formula in the United States.

One of these companies is Abbott Laboratories. A 2011 report by the USDA pegged Abbott’s share of the market at over 40%.

In February, The FDA shut down Abbott’s largest plant for manufacturing infant formula. Obviously, this caused a major national formula shortage.

With an Orwellian flourish, the Biden Administration blames Abbott for the shortage, because it is not producing enough formula. But it is the Biden administration itself that is preventing Abbott from producing it.

And besides, Abbott Laboratories is a publicly held corporation that exists for the purpose of making money. WIC, on the other hand, is a government agency that exists for the purpose of feeding mothers and small children.

Furthermore, the government has not only granted an oligopoly to three companies, but has also burdened the entire industry with a myriad of gratuitous, often inscrutable regulations, and has effectively forbidden the importation of formula from abroad. A shortage was only a matter of time.

If the FDA can’t or won’t do its job, it should at the very least get out of the way and let market forces do theirs. Instead, the agency continues to prioritize maintaining its own power and influence and continues to pursue an agenda that is often at odds with its institutional mission, undernourished babies be damned.

If the FDA and WIC did what they were established to do, instead of devoting an inordinate amount of time, money, and energy to self-promotion and vaccine-promotion, perhaps there wouldn’t be so many babies in America suffering from malnutrition. 

Perhaps there wouldn’t be so many small children going to bed hungry. Perhaps there wouldn’t be so many desperate mothers, crying themselves to sleep, wondering how they will feed their little one tomorrow.