One Bad Choice and a Baby Formula Shortage

Baby formula is the target of the ring of theft. Its supply has been disrupted by the Covid lockdown. Its demand pattern has been upended by pandemic-induced changes in retail and baby manufacturing. Add the fact that half of the US supply is consumed by welfare recipients, who are limited by regulation to the choice of three manufacturers. Adding federal regulations makes it difficult to alleviate domestic shortages by importing foreign-made supplies.

And the baby formula crisis that rocked 2022 is not yet the occasion for your perfect storm metaphors: The key factor that overwhelmed everyone else was the government’s decision to February forced plant closures and product recalls at the Abbott Labs plant in Michigan.

Four cases of Cronobacter sakazakii The infant infections that the government cited could not be traced back to factory products. No contaminated infant formula was found; Cronobacter was identified on the plant premises but did not genetically match samples from affected infants. A considered response might be to keep the plant running and carefully inspect its output for contaminated formula, but that is not the response the Food and Drug Administration has approved. choose and thus hang a story.

As one textbook puts it, Cronobacter is a “one product population problem” — the product is infant formula; population are infants, especially low birth weight infants.

A common bacterium in the environment and an easy starter, with unusual tolerance to arid conditions, Cronobacter usually infects only the elderly and immunocompromised. The big exception is that very young infants — 2 months or less or with compromised immunity — can develop deadly complications such as sepsis and meningitis.

The natural source of Cronobacter is uncertain but the bacteria are easily found on plants, in soil, on meats, cheeses, fruits and grains, in wastewater, in herbal teas, etc. The US government in 2014 found samples on 38 out of 55 US milk powder facilities, with 4.4% of the 5,671 “sweets and sponges” having test results. positive. While contamination is rarely found in factory sealed products, unlike more expensive liquid baby formula versions, the powder has proven impractical to pasteurize. .

In the United States, indoor contamination is clearly a major risk, “after you open the container,” as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it. Cronobacter has been found on lids, spoons and bottles and in stored water. For parents of vulnerable infants, CDC recommends mixing infant formula with water heated to 158 degrees Fahrenheit before giving the cooled solution to babies.

To make matters more complicated, Cronobacter incubation is estimated to take as little as four days and sometimes as long as 21, so a parent’s rudimentary intuition that a particular recipe might involve making continue. Only one state, Minnesota, tracks Crononbacter infections. The CDC says it receives reports of two to four newborn cases a year but has no opinion on the true incidence and points to recent evidence that mild infections may not rare in all age groups.

Given the current landscape, especially the lack of evidence that the factory was the culprit, one conclusion is hard to argue with: In closing the Abbott factory, the FDA acted out of a no-risk mentality in insurance. own – protecting infant formula from factory contamination – regardless of the costs and risks that would be someone else’s problem. These include a nightmare for parents and the risk of malnutrition for thousands of babies, especially those who need doctor-prescribed formula that is only manufactured in Michigan factories.

Have we heard this story before? Almost daily throughout the Covid crisis, from government agencies and politicians, who made snap decisions in their own narrow self-interest rather than the public good. Recall the FDA’s self-protective perfectionism that delayed lab and then home testing for Covid long after other countries had them.

The media is usually not helpful in this regard. “Following science” can be seen as a smokescreen to avoid science, which is often complicated and uncertain, in favor of partisan stereotypes and narratives of villains and heroes. In recent days, the FDA has continued to streamline its behavior with a laborious and ostentatious “settlement” that would allow the Michigan plant to reopen; Because the Defense Production Act has become a “thing” for the media during the Covid crisis, the Biden administration on Tuesday convened the DPA and sent military-linked airlines to provide resources. provide infant formula from abroad.

Congress held hearings on Thursday. We may just be witnessing the beginning of a political cycle stemming from a questionable act of judgment by the FDA.

Wonderland: Joe Biden prefers talking about racism and guns than facing the real problem. Image: AFP / Getty Images / Reuters / Shutterstock Synthesis: Mark Kelly

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