Baby Formula Shortage
Empty shelves where infant formula would normally be located at a CVS on Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans on Monday, May 16, 2022. (Photo by Chris Granger | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

It’s not clear what critics of baby formula being delivered to detention centers think should happen to immigrant babies.

Every single Wisconsin Republican in the US House of Representatives voted against a bill on Wednesday that aims to ensure the ongoing shortage of baby formula doesn’t happen again. 

Reps. Tom Tiffany, Bryan Steil, Scott Fitzgerald, Mike Gallagher, and Glenn Grothman all voted against the Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, a bill that would provide $28 million for the US Food and Drug Administration to hire more formula inspectors to improve oversight of formula production and prevent fraudulent products from hitting store shelves.

The measure ultimately passed 231-192, with 12 Republicans joining 219 Democrats to pass the bill. While that bill works its way through the legislative process, President Joe Biden took further action on Wednesday, invoking the Defense Production Act to ramp up domestic production and speed up imports of formula.  

On the other side of the aisle, instead of taking action to solve the crisis, Republicans are blaming the babies of immigrants rather than the corporation that was forced to close its factory after contamination was found to have led to the deaths of two babies. 

“Americans cannot even find baby formula at their local grocery stores, but the Biden administration is reportedly using your tax dollars to make sure people who are not American citizens have some. Americans last, illegals first!” Rep. Tiffany wrote in a recent tweet .

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who will now get to vote on the bill in the Senate, shared a similar sentiment, tweeting the link to an article from a right-wing news site highlighting his effort to blame the babies of migrants for the formula shortage. Johnson, who is up for re-election this fall, has asked the Department of Homeland Security and the Food and Drug Administration to investigate why migrant babies—who did not ask to come to the US, are in detention, and need formula to survive–are receiving formula.

“As hard-working American parents struggle to find infant formula, a recent news report indicated that illegal immigrants detained by Border Patrol may not be experiencing these difficulties,” Johnson wrote in a letter to Biden administration officials. “A member of Congress reportedly obtained photographs from a Border Patrol agent showing that shelves at a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention center in McAllen, Texas, are stocked with ‘pallets’ of baby formula.”

It is not clear what Johnson is suggesting should happen to the babies of detainees. 

The actual cause of the shortage is the closure of the Abbott Labs factory in Sturgis, Michigan. While Johnson and Tiffany fear-monger about immigrant babies, congressional Democrats want to know what the company did to upgrade its plant prior to its February closure due to bacterial contamination—when it has also spent $8 billion in stock buybacks since 2019.

“As Abbott spent billions buying back its own stock, it appears that it failed to make necessary repairs to fix a critical manufacturing plant of infant formula located in Michigan,” wrote Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) to Abbott Labs’ CEO Robert Ford.

Abbott is one just four companies that manufacture 90% of the country’s supply of baby formula. The disruption is causing angst and a mad scramble among parents trying to locate what supplies remain on store shelves.

“In the wealthiest nation in the world, babies should not be at risk of going hungry. Parents should not have to play a guessing game and wonder if the food that they are giving their babies is safe,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Colorado), author of the bill to improve FDA safety activities.

It could take months for the Abbott facility to come back online, which is why Biden  invoked the Defense Production Act.The Wisconsin Department of Human Services has a website explaining what families can consider if they are facing a shortage of their regular brand of formula.