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'It's a health crisis': Minnesota parents raise concerns about baby formula shortage

State leaders said the situation was expected to improve within four to six weeks as additional varieties come to market.

Gov. Tim Walz - roundtable on formula
Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on Thursday, May 19, 2022, met with parents, health care providers, lawmakers and grocery store leaders to discuss the ongoing shortage of baby formula across the country.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota parents on Thursday, May 19, told Walz Administration officials about their struggles to find baby formula for their infants amid the national shortage and urged state action to make more formula available.

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan along with state Department of Health leaders, lawmakers, health care providers and grocery company leaders met for a round table discussion at the Capitol to discuss the scale of the problem and to consider what state leaders and private companies could offer solutions.

"Access to nutrition, that's the priority and we want to figure out how we can do that," Flanagan said. "We are feeding our babies and there is literally nothing that is more important than that."

The shutdown of a Michigan formula plant due to reported contamination earlier this year left the market with a substantial gap in recent weeks that came to a head after parents reported that infant formula was unavailable in stores or online. Minnesota parents said they'd visited multiple stores to find formula and reached out to friends or family in other states or countries to see if they could spare extra canisters.

This week, the Food and Drug Administration said it would allow the plant to reopen after it was expected and announced that it would loosen regulations on other formula production plants to get more infant formula into circulation. The Biden Administration on Wednesday also invoked the federal Defense Production Act to get needed supplies to U.S. formula producers and order the Department of Defense to expedite shipments coming from overseas.

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And while the moves are expected to bring additional resources to market in about four to six weeks, parents said that wouldn't relieve their concerns about running out before more canisters might become available.

Allie Smulka said her 10-month-old daughter Whitney goes through about a can of her formula each week. After a recall, she had to throw out two of three cans that she had and worried about getting more before the last can ran out.

"What do we do in those four to six weeks? That's a very long time," Smulka said. "It's a health crisis. How do we feed these kids?"

State nutrition program leaders said the state's Women, Infants and Children (WIC) special supplemental nutrition program had opened up additional varieties of formula available and had a list of formula varieties that could be used as a substitute if family members were unable to find their preferred formula for their children.

Dr. Andrea Singh, chair of pediatrics at Park Nicollet, said parents should first look for comparable formula options to try with their babies and if they're unable to find those options, they should call their health care providers for advice on what options might work for feeding. She urged parents not to turn to do-it-yourself options advised on social media, as they might not be safe for babies.

"We'd much rather you come to us than you go online and figure out what somebody somewhere else was doing," Singh said. "Instead of making a DIY option, call your medical team."

Minnesota Republican Party leaders on Thursday said state and federal leaders should've stepped in sooner to open up additional supply options for parents.

“Now that the shortage has reached crisis level, Democrats like Gov. Walz are scrambling to clean up this crisis that they ignored for months," Republican Party of Minnesota Executive Director Mike Lonergan said. "Minnesota families need results so they can feed their babies.”

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MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš met with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz Wednesday ahead of a six-day Latvian song and dance festival in St. Paul.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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