A WRAL News investigation has found that the state of North Carolina has been destroying supplies of baby formula since as far back as 2019.
Family care centers are among the last hopes for people searching for baby formula in North Carolina, but we now know they’ve also been throwing out supplies despite countless parents being in desperate need right now. One of those mothers tells WRAL News it’s hard to believe this is happening.
Similar programs in other states have thrown out thousands of cans of food in just the past few months, and one mother is calling on the state to change its policy to help families in crisis.
“I mean that’s shocking, that is literally shocking,” Ashley Crabtree said.
Since having premature twins, Crabtree’s daughter has developed a need for specialized formula.
With supply shortages leaving stores and even doctors out of stock for weeks, she’s had to turn to Facebook to ask other families for help.
“So not being able to find that was devastating,” Crabtree said. “We can’t feed our children, you know?”
Crabtree eventually signed up with for assistance from a USDA-run Women, Infants and Children program, a federal effort that partners with the state to provide food to families in need.
While it’s been a saving grace for some, they don’t have as much formula as they could.
A spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services told WRAL News that these programs destroy any formula that’s been returned to their offices, even if it’s unexpired and unopened.
Formula is often returned when families seek different options for their children or doctors switch them to another prescription.
The state said it’s followed the USDA recommendation since 2019.
“This approach ensures safety,” the guidance reads. “Unused, returned infant formula may have been inappropriately stored (e.g., exposed to extremely high temperatures), may be past its use-by-date, or subjected to tampering.”
Some parents say in light of the current supply shortages, the policy doesn’t make sense.
“I understand that a child’s safety is obviously our number one priority but if it’s unexpired, unopened, therefore no reason to just destroy these cans,” Crabtree said. “I mean we are in a crisis.”
WRAL News asked the state how much formula it’s destroyed over the past year.
In response, NCDHHS said it doesn’t keep a record of that information.
But a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that the same program in Georgia has destroyed more than 16,400 cans of formula since October 2021.
“There are moms that are desperate, I know multiple parents that are literally begging, please, I need one can,” Crabtree said. “Can you imagine how many families that could have seriously helped, or saved?”
On Thursday a White House advisor told WRAL News that sales and production of baby formula have increased nationwide in recent weeks, and a shipment of 300,000 pounds of formula was expected to arrive in the US by June 9 to address shortages.
WRAL News asked whether USDA would be changing its policy on destroying returned formula.
“I would have to go back to them and look at that, but happy to go talk to my colleagues at the USDA,” National Economic Council deputy director Sameera Fazili said. “Because they’ve been working around the clock and very closely with all the governors and the state WIC agencies to see what they can do here.”
WRAL News reached back out to NCDHHS to ask why it doesn’t keep records of how much formula it’s destroyed, and whether the agency has considered reversing the policy because of the current shortage.
They responded that they would not change the state policy, writing: “We know that families continue to have difficulty with infant formula supply, and we continue to work to increase formula on shelves. The federal guidance on redistributing returned formulas addresses the multiple, potentially serious health risks to infants from using formula that was returned. Additionally, retailers typically do not distribute returned food items because of liability and that they cannot guarantee the items have not been tampered, contaminated, or otherwise adulterated and unfit for consumption NC has re-visited the policy on returned formula several times and is doing so again during the shortage. Our top priority during the infant formula shortage remains ensuring safe and nutritious options for North Carolina families.”
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