As an infant formula shortage rages across America, it was recently revealed that in the last seven months, one state alone destroyed 16,549 containers of formula while blindly following federal guidelines that the feds now say were just advice.
When Georgia’s policy hit the news, a wave of finger-pointing erupted between the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, followed by a change in policy.
At issue is a USDA policy that when unopened, unexpired containers of formula given out through the Women, Infants & Children program are returned, they are to be destroyed. The grounds for the policy is that poor storage could mean what’s inside might not be appropriate to give to a baby.
Georgia has been zealous in following the policy, so much so that since October 2021, WIC clinics in Georgia have destroyed 16,459 returned containers of formula, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I mean, talk about waste,” Vanesa Sarazua, founder of the Hispanic Alliance of Georgia, told the outlet. “There’s no formula anywhere and instead of giving [returned cans] to poor kids, they’re throwing it out.”
“Having seen firsthand the need there is in the community … it seemed crazy,” she said.
A federal edict was to blame, along with the state’s decision to simply follow blindly.
Not every state has done so. Texas, for example, does not follow the USDA’s marching order. Michigan did for a while before the rule was called out for gross stupidity.
But in North Carolina, the USDA policy became its rule as well, leading to the destruction of returned containers of formula since 2019, according to WRAL-TV.
“I mean that’s shocking, that is literally shocking,” said Ashley Crabtree, the mother of premature twins, one of whom requires specialized formula.
State officials do not know how much formula was destroyed during that time.
“I understand that a child’s safety is obviously our No. 1 priority, but if it’s unexpired, unopened, therefore no reason to just destroy these cans,” Crabtree said. “I mean, we are in a crisis.”
“There are moms that are desperate. I know multiple parents that are literally begging, ‘Please, I need one can,'” she said. “Can you imagine how many families that could have seriously helped or saved?”
The 2019 USDA guidance had taken on the odor of a mistake, Reason noted. That led to Georgia deciding that it would ignore the rule in the future.
Georgia reverses policy that required destruction of unused baby formula https://t.co/tAwMfNrEE5
— Atlanta Journal-Constitution (@ajc) May 23, 2022
North Carolina opted for a policy review while defending what it was doing.
“The federal guidance on redistributing returned formulas addresses the multiple, potentially serious health risks to infants from using formula that was returned,” said Summer Tonizzo, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Then the USDA said that it really didn’t order anyone to do anything and states could ignore the 2019 guidance.
“To ensure the safety of infant formula, current [USDA Food and Nutrition Service] policy, recommends but does not require that WIC clinics dispose of unused, returned WIC infant formula in accordance with state and local health and safety laws,” Daniel Shedd, a USDA spokesman, told Reason in an email.
The agency “is not planning to alter existing policy as WIC state agencies have flexibility to develop and/or update policies for the donation of unused, returned infant formula and are encouraged to do so in concert with their state health department and legal counsel,” he said.
Reason added its own bottom line to the mess.
“Destroying perfectly good formula when there are infants going hungry is yet another appalling government failure,” Eric Boehm wrote.
“There’s also something deeply troubling about the lack of responsibility being expressed by the agencies involved. The USDA says it sees no need to change its guidance because states ultimately make their own rules. State officials in North Carolina point to the USDA guidelines to justify their decision making,” Boehm noted, as did Georgia officials.
“That’s the great thing about a governmental screw-up, isn’t it? There’s always someone else to blame,” he said.
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