One in nine Americans say they have been affected by the baby-formula shortage

Linley SandersData Journalist
May 17, 2022, 7:00 PM GMT+0

Many Americans (11%) say they have been affected by the nationwide shortage of baby formula in the United States, which was in part caused by a recent recall of baby formula by Abbott Laboratories in Michigan. On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Abbott reached an agreement to resume the production of formula in the next two weeks. Even after production resumes, however, it will take up to two months before the formula is on shelves.

A new YouGov poll conducted from May 13 - 16, 2022 shows that Americans are aware of the problems with purchasing baby formula, though they are more likely to have heard about the shortage (86%) than the recall of Abbott baby formula (65%) that preceded it. Americans who have been affected by the shortage and opted to answer an open-ended question about it mention purchase limits at grocery stores, asking friends and family to help with the search, and the uncertainty of not knowing if nearby stores will have any formula in stock.

As the shortfall continues, most Americans are placing “a lot” or “a little” responsibility on supply chain problems (76%), U.S. formula companies (74%), and the recent recall of formulas (71%). Smaller majorities blame the FDA (63%), U.S. trade policies (57%), or parents who keep an excessive amount of formula (51%).

President Biden has said that his administration “moved quickly” as the shortage became apparent, but it is not free of blame in Americans’ eyes. Most (57%) say the Biden Administration has some responsibility for the shortage. Ahead of its recent action, Republican and Democratic Senators released statements last week asking Biden to consider invoking the Defense Production Act, which gives the president the power to order the production and supply of goods and services that promote the national defense. That response is something majorities of Democrats (57%) and Republicans (58%) would favor.

While the administration has not ruled out using the Defense Production Act to increase domestic production, there are other efforts to increase formula supply from other countries. There are generally limitations on what types of baby formula can be imported to the U.S., however, because the FDA places rules on its vitamin content and packaging. On Monday, the FDA announced that it would effectively loosen the rules for products that “provide adequate nutrition.”

Asked two different ways before the announcement, Americans were split on whether these import rules should be halted. Opinion was split whether they were asked about “removing restrictions” or “suspending guidelines.” YouGov asked the question differently among two randomly assigned groups to check whether there was a bias toward the notion of easing restrictions or whether suspending guidelines sounded milder. But no difference emerged between the randomly assigned groups. Among Americans asked whether they would support or oppose “removing restrictions” on the import of baby formula, 41% are in support and 34% are opposed. Among Americans asked about the language of “suspending FDA guidelines,” 40% are in support and 34% oppose it.

Last week, Republican lawmakers also criticized the Biden Administration after photographs showed infant formula at migrant detention centers on the nation’s southern border. Representative Elise Stefanik, among other Republicans, claimed that Biden was prioritizing non-citizens over American families. A New York Times report said that the government is legally obligated to provide food “for children detained by immigration officials.”

The notion that non-citizen babies in U.S. government custody were taking formula from American babies caught the attention of right-leaning media and other right-wing organizations. When asked about the controversy, most Americans (57%) say non-citizen babies in U.S. custody should be fed baby formula, while 19% say non-citizen babies should not be fed baby formula. One-third of Republicans (34%) say that non-citizen babies in U.S. custody should not receive this nutrition, while 46% say they should.

– Taylor Orth, Mark Blumenthal, and Carl Bialik contributed to this article

This poll was conducted on May 13 - 16, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll

Image: Getty